Blackhawks on the verge…again

10-171460575-smallWith Saturday night’s Game 5 victory over the Lightning in Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks have put themselves in position to do something they haven’t done since 1938: win the Stanley Cup on home ice. Saturday night marked the second time in three games that the Blackhawks have defeated Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena, and they did it by playing their best all around game of the series.

The first four games of this Stanley Cup Final saw the Lightning begin each game as the better team, only to have the Blackhawks get better as the game progressed. One could even argue that Tampa Bay was the better team over the course of the first four games. Saturday night’s game flipped the script, however, as the Hawks came out in the first period as the much better team. They dominated in Corsi, ending the period with a 26-14 15-_DSC2491-toresizeadvantage, and also led in shots 14-5. The first period ended with the Blackhawks also winning on the scoreboard by a score of 1-0 thanks to a major mishap between Ben Bishop and Victor Hedman.

Over the years, the Blackhawks have shown that they know how to take their game to that next level when they need to. They know when they have the chance to put their foot on their opponent’s neck, and they always seem to do so. Saturday night was no different. With the series tied 2-2, the winner moving to within one victory of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, the Hawks knew it was time to elevate their game and scratch out a win. Add in the fact that a win in Game 5 would mean a chance to lift the Cup on home ice in Game 6, and that team had more motivation to play their best than they probably knew what to do with.

So that’s where we’re at now. The series headed back to Chicago and the Blackhawks knowing that with a win Monday night, they’ll be celebrating a championship on home ice for the first time in 77 years.

Here’s what needs to happen in Game 6 to ensure that the aforementioned does take place:

  • Get another great start. For the first time in this series, the Hawks were the better team in the first period during Game 5. This needs to happen again in Game 6. The United Center is going to be absolutely insane with noise, and the Hawks players need to feed off of that right from the get go. Getting a quick one or two (can we dream?) goal lead would be huge and put the Lightning in a very tough spot.
  • Keep it up Crawford. Corey Crawford has arguably been the MVP of this series, and he turned in yet another fantastic performance Saturday night. He definitely seems to have a boat load of confidence right now and is playing his best hockey of the year. With Tampa Bay likely to come out in full desperation mode, Crawford should expect to be tested with some quality scoring chances. It will be on him to make the necessary saves and some “highlight reel” saves.
  • Solid PK. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been rather brilliant against the Lightning. They’ve killed off 12 of the 13 penalties that they have taken in this series, which is a huge reason they are now one win away from clinching. Maintaining a solid PK Monday night will once again be large if they can do so. The United Center crowd thrives on successful penalty kills, which lends some momentum to the home team.
  • Star time. The fact that the Blackhawks are one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup without Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa scoring a single goal in this series is remarkable. Heck, Jonathan Toews only has one goal, as does Patrick Sharp. This speaks volumes about the depth of the Blackhawks. However, maybe now is the time for the stars of this team to make their mark. It’s never too late for Showtime.
  • Zone exits. The Blackhawks have been having a really tough time clearing the puck out of their own zone against the Lightning. Tampa Bay does an exceptional job of clogging the boards and not allowing the Hawks to get the puck out of the zone that way. This has led to numerous defensive zone turnovers and subsequent scoring chances for the Lightning. It is imperative that the Blackhawks find a way to get the puck out of their zone successfully in Game 6. Whether it’s using the middle of the ice, flipping the puck high into the air and out of the zone, or literally anything that may work, the Hawks need to do it because using the boards as a way of clearing the zone is not working.
  • Lastly, the Big Four. The top four d-men of the Hawks (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya) have all played very heavy minutes ever since the beginning of the Western Conference Final. This is well documented. Game 5 was possibly their best performance of this series, especially for Niklas Hjalmarsson. If these guys can put together just one more great game and leave it all on the ice, the Hawks should be in good shape. With the Stanley Cup on the line, I’m confident this will be the case.

The Hawks are 9-0 in Game 6’s under Joel Quenneville. That is absolutely remarkable, but also somewhat of a meaningless stat at this point as each game and each series is different. What that does say, however, is that this team knows how to close out a series when given the chance. This is a cold blooded team that does not often give their opponent second chances. Knowing full well that with a win they can celebrate the Cup on their home ice with their own fans, it would be silly to think the Blackhawks won’t be completely amped up and ready to go Monday night.

Having already won two Cups in the last six years, the Hawks know how to prepare for a potential Cup-clinching game like this. When you’ve got guys like Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and so on, you know you’ll be prepared and solely focused on the task at hand.

I am expecting the Hawks’ best game of the series in Game 6. I don’t think they’ll let the an opportunity like this pass by without taking advantage of it.

*Also, WIN IT FOR KIMMO!

Blackhawks Update

With NHL draft now behind us, we can really start to speculate as to what types of moves the Blackhawks will be making this summer. Whether they make trades, sign free agents, or do both (most likely), one thing is for sure. The Hawks will begin next season with some new names on their roster.

About a month or so ago, there were rumors going around that the Hawks would be looking to trade away Dave Bolland and Niklas Hjalmarsson. The reasoning for these proposed moves was that the Blackhawks felt Kruger could take Bolland’s spot as a shut-down center, and trading away both of those salaries would free up a lot of cap space to sign top free agents. As of right now, I am not hearing any rumors involving a Dave Bolland trade. Whether or not it stays that way, only time will tell. As for the possibility of Niklas Hjalmarsson departing via a trade, that remains very true.

Just about everywhere I have looked regarding a trade involving Hjalmarsson has indicated that the Blackhawks are aggressively looking to trade him for most likely a center who can win face-offs. As we all know, the Blackhawks were not very good at winning their draws last year, with the exception of Jonathan Toews. One rumor I saw stated that the Hawks were talking with the Ottawa Senators about a trade that would send Hjalmarsson to Ottawa in exchange for Zack Smith. Smith is a 24 year old center who has won over 50% of his face-offs throughout his career. This trade makes sense for both teams in that Ottawa needs a defensive-defenseman like Hjalmarsson, and the Hawks need a center who can consistently win face-offs. I heard about this trade about a week or so ago, but I have not heard anything more about it. The only thing that do know for sure is that Hjalmarsson is very much so still on the trade block.

After the Hawks resigned Johnny Oduya for $3.5 million, it sure looked like they wouldn’t be in on trying to sign Ryan Suter this summer. However, that was before all of the Niklas Hjalmarsson rumors began to appear. If the Hawks do end up trading Hjalmarsson before July 1 (the day free agency opens), they will for sure be in on the “Suter Sweepstakes.” If they do not trade him before July 1, then don’t expect them to trade him at all. The only reason they would trade “Hammer” would be to free up a roster spot and cap space for Ryan Suter. Otherwise, it would make no sense to trade away their best shot-blocker. If the Blackhawks do find the right deal that would send Hjalmarsson elsewhere to allow themselves to bid on Suter, I would be all for it. Ryan Suter is exactly what the Blackhawks need. He is a superior defensive-defenseman, as well as a superior offensive-defenseman. It’s no secret that the Hawks want a lot more production out of their powerplay next season, and Ryan Suter would greatly help in that area. But again, unless Hjalmarsson gets traded between now and Sunday, don’t expect him to get traded at all, or for the Hawks to go after Suter.

As for Patrick Kane…..I don’t think he’ll be traded. The only elite winger that is being shopped by their current team is Rick Nash of the Columbus Blue Jackets. While I do see some upsides to trading Kane for Nash, I don’t think it will happen. The biggest reason is the fact that the Blue Jackets’ asking price for Nash seems to be too high for just about every team in the NHL. They want more than just a Patrick Kane-type player in return, and that “more” is something that the Hawks and most other teams are unwilling to give up. So if you want my opinion, don’t read too much into those rumors.

Neither Zach Parise nor Roberto Luongo will be playing for the Hawks next year, so forget about that.

Other than that, I don’t have much else to say. The one guy that I really felt would fit the Hawks perfectly was Jarret Stoll. He is a center for the Kings who wins the majority of his draws and is not afraid to throw his body around, not to mention his offensive skills. He played a huge roll for the Kings these playoffs. He could have chosen to enter free agency this summer, but instead he re-signed with L.A. for less money than he could have gotten somewhere else.

Keep your eyes and ears open here in the next week. If they Hawks are going to do anything significant, it will happen between now and Sunday.

Thanks for reading.