Disappointing loss in Game 3 for the Blackhawks

15-_DSC2491-toresizeI, for one, felt pretty good about this series after the first two games. The Blackhawks went down to Tampa Bay and took Game 1 thus giving them home ice advantage in the series. They lost the second game, a game which they could have won, but it wasn’t the end of the world. They met their goal by getting at least one victory in Tampa. With the series then headed back here to Chicago where the Hawks have been rather dominant this postseason, I thought it was very possible they could win both games at home to go up 3-1 in the series. Well after last night, that is no longer possible.

Game 3 was a game that the Blackhawks really should have never lost, but they did by a score of 3-2. After Ryan Callahan opened up the scoring early in the first period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the remainder of the period and ended it with 19 shots on goal compared to the Lightning’s 7. In terms of Corsi, the Hawks had a 33-11 advantage after the first period (33 shot attempts to 11). Those are some pretty staggering numbers, yet only Brad Richards was able to find the back of the net for the Hawks through the first 20 minutes and the game was tied at 1 apiece.

It seemed logical to think that the Blackhawks would come out in the second and try to pick up right where they left off in the first, but that didn’t happen. Tampa Bay owned the second period and out-shot the Hawks 17-7. The Lightning did have an extended 5 on 3, which partially led to that shot disparity between the two teams, but they still dominated the whole period. The puck seemingly never left their offensive zone for more than a few seconds at a time, and the Hawks were completely unable to get any sort of momentum going. However, despite their shot advantage and the fact that they had a lengthy 5 on 3 powerplay, Tampa Bay did not score in the period, and it remained 1-1 heading into the third.

Just over four minutes into the third period, Marian Hossa found Brandon Saad wide open in the slot and hit him with a perfect pass to set up a one-timer. Saad made no mistake on the shot and blew it by the glove side of Bishop to put the Hawks in front 2-1.

Then, just 13 seconds after Saad’s goal, Ondrej Palat scored a pretty soft goal at the other end to tie it right back up. Talk about a momentum swing…

For roughly the next 12 minutes, things went back and forth with Tampa Bay getting mostly better chances than the Hawks. Nothing would go in, though, until just over 3 minutes were left in regulation. Victor Hedman carried the puck up the ice and into the offensive zone, weaved through the Hawks’ defenders, then centered a pass from the goal line to Crawford’s right and found the stick of Cedric Paquette who simply redirected it into the empty net. Just like that, 3-2. There would be no “miracle on Madison” in the final minutes of regulation, and the Hawks now find themselves down 2-1 in the series with the Lightning regaining home ice advantage.

This was a game that the Blackhawks had no business losing, making it that much more frustrating. Here’s what I took away from Game 3:

  • After a first period in which the Hawks dominated once allowing Ryan Callahan to score, they only found themselves tied at 1 on the scoreboard. Both Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen had point blank, empty net scoring chances in the period, but neither one hit the net. Granted, Marian Hossa was tripped while attempting the shot, but that’s not a good enough excuse in my mind. Had the Hawks buried either one or both of those chances, there’s a real possibility that we’re talking about a victory right now rather than a loss.
  • Staying with the “dominating first period” theme, the fact that the Hawks came out as flat as they did in the second was mind blowing to me. They had Tampa Bay on the ropes after the opening 20, and then let them back in it in the second frame.
  • What in the world is going on with Ben Bishop? He and Jon Cooper insist that he’s fine and that he’s capable of playing, but the eye test would say otherwise. Yes, Bishop did end up with a 36-save victory, but the Blackhawks never really tested him as much as they should have. Joel Quenneville said so following the game Monday night. It’s pretty evident that Bishop is having some serious trouble moving side to side, specifically right to left, yet the Blackhawks never were able to establish enough offensive zone time to test him with those movements. If Bishop plays again in Game 4, it would be wise of the Blackhawks to test him early and often.
  • 15-_DSC2491-toresizeThe star players of the Hawks need to start showing up on the score sheet. Last night, the first line of Saad, Toews, and Hossa was extremely good and even registered a goal (Saad). Having said that, guys like Toews, Kane, Hossa, and Sharp have got to start finding the back of the net or at least begin creating goals for other linemates. The Blackhawks will not win this series without those guys producing. I also believe that if those guys do begin scoring, the Hawks will not lose this series. If you recall, Toews and Kane did a whole lot of nothing in games 1-3 in each of their previous two Stanley Cup Final appearances. Then in games 4-6, they dominated. Hopefully history repeats itself.
  • Monday night’s loss marked the TENTH time this postseason that the Blackhawks have allowed a goal less than two minutes after scoring one themselves. Instead of letting up after scoring, it’s about time they do the opposite and go for the kill.
  • Corey Crawford, while not horrible, has not been his best the last two games. He’s got to find a way to keep the goals scored by Callahan and Palat out of the net.
  • Byan Bickell played one of his worst games of the year in Game 3, and that’s saying something. I am all for Quenneville benching him and reinserting Kris Versteeg for Game 4. Versteeg brings speed and energy, both of which fit nicely in this series.
  • Lastly, TVR. I thought van Riemsdyk had and “okay” game Monday night, as Quenneville would say. He made some real nice passes and plays to get out of his own end, but he also turned the puck over a couple times in the defensive zone. Instead of forcing the puck up the boards in an attempt to clear the zone, try looking towards the middle of the ice where there’s less traffic.

While there is no question that Game 3 stung, this is only a 2-1 series right now. The Hawks can still even this thing up Wednesday night. There is no denying that they cannot afford to lose Game 4, so I would expect to see the Hawks’ best effort of the series so far. Jonathan Toews has said a couple of times recently that the Hawks seem to play their best hockey when they are backed up against a wall. Well, I’d consider their backs to be against the wall now.

If the Hawks can pull out a win in Game 4, they’ll head back to Tampa Bay where the Lightning have been very disappointing this postseason. They are a weak 6-6 at home during the playoffs. This series is far from over, but a Hawks victory is imperative Wednesday night.

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Blackhawks drop Game 2

15-_DSC2491-toresizeAfter a surprisingly low scoring first game of the series between the Blackhawks and Lightning, we finally got what we were all expecting in Game 2: a fast paced, relatively high scoring track meet. Each team traded goals throughout the game until Tampa Bay struck for their fourth goal roughly half way through the third. The Blackhawks could not answer, and the game ended 4-3 in favor of the home team. Series tied 1-1 heading to Chicago.

All things considered, the Hawks shouldn’t be too upset about coming home with the series tied at one. Their goal heading into the first two games in Tampa was to win at least one and gain home ice advantage in the series. They did just that. The disappointing thing is that Game 2 was definitely winnable, but they let Tampa Bay off the hook. Had the Hawks pulled off another victory last night to go up 2-0 in the series, this thing would be all but over.

So here’s what I took away from Game 2:

  • Corey Crawford did not have his best game. There’s no doubt about that. Tyler Johnson’s goal to make it 3-2 should have never happened, but it did. Crawford looked a bit shaky pretty much the whole night while allowing four goals. Having said that, aside from Johnson’s goal, you can’t really blame Crawford too much for the other three. On Tampa’s first goal of the game, Crawford was heavily screened and never had a good look at the shot. Their second goal, scored by Kucherov, was another crazy redirect giving Crow no chance of making a save. And their fourth goal came via another deflection, only this time the puck hit Andrew Desjardins’ stick. While Crawford did admit that he needs to be better, I don’t think there’s anything to be concerned about here. Tampa Bay has scored some crazy goals this series, and there’s not much Crawford could do.
  • Toews, Kane, and Saad were held quiet again in Game 2. Give Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, and the Cedric Paquette line credit for shutting these guys down. Towards the end of the game, Quenneville did elect to place Kane back on the second line while moving Hossa back up with Toews and Saad. With the series now shifting to Chicago where the Hawks will have the last change, it’ll be interesting to see if Q goes back to the Toews, Kane, and Saad line knowing he can now dictate the matchups. My guess is we will see this for at least the first period of Game 3. If that line is still not producing, then we’ll see Hossa back with Toews, and Kane with Richards. One thing to note is that in the 2010 Final against Philadelphia, Toews and Kane did nothing in games 1 and 2. They then woke up and came up big in games 3-6. In the 2013 Final against Boston, neither player did much of anything until Game 4. Those two both scored that game and were unstoppable the rest of the way.
  • Ben Bishop left Game 2 in the middle of the third period for about a minute, then returned to the ice. After a couple minutes back in the game, he left again, only this time he didn’t return. I thought for sure he was just sick or something like that, but it’s sounding more and more like this could be an injury. If that’s the case, there’s a good chance he’ll be on the bench Monday night meaning Andrei Vasilevskiy will get the start in goal. Vasilevskiy has 8 career NHL wins as a rookie this year. If he’s in net, the Hawks will need to quickly figure out how to beat this guy. We’re already two games into this series, so there’s no more time for a “feeling out” process. While this kid has some major talent and upside, this is still a tough spot for him to be called upon. The Blackhawks need to take advantage of that right away.
  • The back-to-back penalties that Patrick Sharp took in the third period Saturday night were obvious penalties that had to be called. The Hawks killed off the first one, but weren’t quite able to do the same on the second. He took full responsibility for this, but the fact of the matter is that the Hawks can’t do that again. You can’t take two straight penalties in the third period of a tie game.
  • Kyle Cumiskey may have played his last game of the series last night. He committed a costly turnover right before the Lightning’s first goal and wound up with a team-low 5:08 of ice time. Joel Quenneville said today that Trevor van Riemsdyk “could play” in Game 3, meaning he probably will. Depending on how well he plays in Game 3, he may not leave the lineup the rest of the way. David Rundblad had a better Game 2 than he did in the first game of this series, so odds are he’s not going anywhere.
  • After a very effective Game 1 performance, Kris Versteeg wasn’t as noticeable in Game 2. Like with TVR, Quenneville stated that Bryan Bickell “could play” Monday and that he thinks he’s healthy. If that’s the case, Bickell will be back for Versteeg in Game 3. This could open up more space for Patrick Kane if Q elects to play Kane on the second line.
  • Teuvo Teravainen is really, really good. He’s got a goal in two straight games to start the series now, with last night’s goal coming on the powerplay. He should be a fixture on the second PP unit from now on. His improved play has made not only the powerplay, but that third line even better. If only Patrick Sharp would show up and start scoring…

The Blackhawks made it clear that they are now looking forward to coming home for the next two games and feeding off the fans at the UC. Just like the Lightning did on their own ice, I’d expect the Hawks to come out flying to start the game Monday night. If they can get an early lead and build on it, they’ll be in good shape.

It will be pretty interesting to see which matchups Q will chase now that he gets the last change, but I’d have to believe he’ll try and get the Toews line out against any d-pairing besides Hedman and Stralman. No coach is better at getting favorable matchups on the ice than Q.

Game 3 is a big one. If the Hawks win that, then all the pressure in the world again shifts to Tampa Bay for Game 4.

Blackhawks need strong start in Game 1

15-_DSC2491-toresizeFinally, after three days off since Game 7 against Anaheim, the Blackhawks will begin their track-meet with the Lightning tonight in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay. Ever since the Hawks prevailed over the Ducks on Saturday to punch their ticket to the next round, all we’ve been reading and hearing is how both teams are fast, the Blackhawks have better depth, and the Blackhawks also have more experience. All of that is true, but now we finally get to see it all play out on the ice.

As I mentioned and you may have heard, the Blackhawks have been on this stage before in recent years and won. Twice. The Lightning, despite having won the Cup in 2004, have not. Only four of their players have ever played in the Stanley Cup Final, and all four lost. Needless to say, the Blackhawks have the major advantage when it comes to experience between the two teams. It is imperative that they use that to their advantage tonight, and for the remainder of the series.

Because of that experience factor, I would expect the Blackhawks to come out as the more calm, cool, and collected group of the two once the puck drops tonight at roughly 7:00pm CT.

Winning the first game of the Stanley Cup Final usually proves to be big, as the winner of Game 1 has gone on to win the series 58 times out of the 75 series played. Whether or not that statistic really means anything is up to you to decide. Still, this is obviously a big game that the Hawks would like to win. Here’s how they can do just that:

  • Survive the first ten minutes. You would have to imagine the Lightning will come out of the gates flying tonight being on their home ice. And when I say flying, I’m not totally joking. This is one of the fastest teams in all of hockey and they use their speed to their advantage. It will be important that the Blackhawks weather the storm in the first ten minutes and come out of the first half of the period tied or winning. This is where the Hawks’ experience could really pay off in a hurry. They know better than anyone how to handle a situation like this.
  • Limit at least one of Tampa’s top two lines. This one goes for the whole series actually, but it stands just as true for Game 1. We’re not sure yet which lines of the Hawks will be matched up against which of the Lightning, but whichever two end up seeing the majority of the Lightning’s top two lines will need to quickly find a way to slow at least one of them down. Tampa Bay almost solely relies on their top six forwards to do all of their scoring, so shutting down or at least limiting just one of their top lines should give them problems. Putting pressure on their bottom six to score is just what the Hawks want.
  • Get productive minutes from Rundblad and Cumiskey. It would appear that these two will remain in the lineup for Game 1, meaning it will be the first time either of them have played in the Stanley Cup Final. If both Rundblad and Cumiskey can play the way they did in games 6 and 7 against Anaheim (smart, composed, responsible), they’ll have done their jobs and given Joel Quenneville just what he’s looking for.
  • Receive a solid outing from Crawford. As I mentioned a bit before, the Lightning will, or at least should, come out going a hundred miles per hour to start this game tonight looking to score the first goal. Odds are that the Blackhawks will need to weather a storm or two early on, meaning Corey Crawford has to be on his game. He’s come up big in big games before, so I’m not too concerned about him being able to do it again.
  • 1st line needs to stay hot. Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Patrick Kane ripped apart the Ducks ever since being put together on the top line in Game 6 of the WCF. It would be huge if they could pick up right where they left off and do the same tonight. Putting heavy pressure on Tampa Bay right away will give the Hawks some momentum and plant a seed of doubt into Tampa’s heads. If this line, or any line of the Hawks for that matter, can come up with the game’s first goal, that will be a huge lift moving forward in the game. Tampa Bay is 9-0 (I’m pretty certain…) this postseason when scoring first, so getting the first goal tonight could be big for either team.

Both teams are going to be pretty jacked up to start tonight’s game, but both will probably go through a bit of a “feeling out” process as well. Neither of these teams are real familiar with the other and so they’ll both probably wait for someone to make the first move before going into attack mode. We could be in for a 2-1 or 3-2 score tonight. Having said that, however, of Tampa’s five home losses this postseason (that’s a lot), four of them have been by four goals. So we could just as well get a 6-2 Blackhawks victory.

The bottom line here is that it will be important for the Blackhawks to play a solid first ten minutes of this game to help set the tone for the remainder of the game. Tampa Bay has not been a good home team during these playoffs, so taking advantage of that tonight could prove to be big.

Blackhawks-Bruins Game 1 thoughts

170398894_slideWell, what a way to start the Stanley Cup Final. Everyone was predicting this to be an epic series that would likely go at least 6 games, possibly 7, and it looks like everyone could be right. It took 3 overtime periods to decide the winner of Game 1, and in the end the Blackhawks came out on top by a final score of 4-3. After watching just one game of this series, we now have a much better feel as to how these two teams match up.

One game doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how the Bruins and Blackhawks compare to each other, but considering the uncertainty of this subject prior to Game 1, we now know a lot more than we did. Here’s what I took away from Game 1:

  • Boston’s top line is incredibly good.
  • Chicago’s speed is already giving Boston problems.
  • The Blackhawks have more quality depth.
  • Both goalies are on top of their game.
  • Special teams has already been, and will be, very important.
  • Turnovers could determine the winner of this series.

Milan Lucic was a force in Game 1. He scored Boston’s first 2 goals, and threatened a number of times to get a third. That line of Lucic, Bergeron, and Horton has a lot more offensive talent than they get credit for. However, Nathan Horton left the game in overtime last night after an apparent shoulder injury and did not return. His status as of today (Thursday) is day-to-day according to Claude Julien. Boston cannot afford to lose Horton for more than a game in this series. While they lost him from Game 3 on in the Cup Final 2 years ago and still won the thing, they do not have the same depth as they did then to effectively replace him. Back in 2011, they had the option of bumping Michael Ryder up in the lineup, Rich Peverley, or dressing Tyler Seguin (he was a rookie and a frequent scratch in the lineup then). Now, their depth is not like it used to be, and losing Horton for more than a game is a big loss.

The speed of the Blackhawks was talked about a lot heading into this series. Many, myself included, thought that this was Chicago’s biggest advantage over Boston and that it could be what puts the Hawks over the top in this series. After Game 1, it looks like we were right. The speed of the Blackhawks in the neutral zone after getting a takeaway was giving Boston fits in Game 1, and their speed coming out of their own end and up the ice provided problems for the Bruins as well. Also, and maybe most importantly, the speed of the Blackhawks on the back-check killed Boston’s odd-man rushes up the ice. I can’t begin to come up with the exact number of odd-man breaks that the Bruins had last night, but none of them resulted in well executed shots on goal. Whether it was a two one one chi_g_hjalmarsson_b1_600for Boston, a three on two, or a breakaway, the Blackhawks always had someone coming back on defense to breakup or disrupt Boston’s chance with great back-checking. The speed of guys like Leddy, Keith, Oduya, Hossa, Saad, Toews, and even Hjalmarsson was very evident last night on the defensive end and gave Boston’s offense a lot of problems.

Depth is always a key factor in winning the Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks and Bruins have prided themselves on their depth throughout the season, but last night proved that Chicago has more of it. Boston’s “depth” players of Peverley, Kelly, Thornton, etc. did not do a whole lot offensively last night. Quite frankly, they haven’t done a whole lot the whole postseason. As for Chicago, they got 3 goals from their third line last night. Bolland and 170400482_slideSaad both scored their first goals of the postseason, and Andrew Shaw got his fifth with the game-winner. That third line was probably the best line for the Hawks in Game 1, which is exactly what they’ll need moving forward. I’m not saying that those guys need to be the best line every night, but when you’re top lines are being held scoreless, you need your bottom two lines to step up and score. That’s how the Blackhawks have been so successful all season long. The fourth line was real good too I thought. Bollig, who was inserted into the lineup for the first time since round 1, was very good. He had 9 hits in just 14 minutes of playing time and was smart when he had the puck. Kruger was 54% at the dot and was again big on the PK in overtime. Frolik had a bit of an off night, but still was effective on a couple of shifts in which the fourth line put sustained offensive pressure on the Bruins. Game 1 proved to me that the Blackhawks have the better depth in this series, which is very important.

Both goalies were good last night, but Corey Crawford was outstanding. He made a countless number of game-saving saves in the third period and all 3 overtimes. I have more confidence in him right now than I ever have. Tuukka Rask played well, but didn’t have to make nearly as many huge saves as Crawford. All the hype about Tuukka Rask leading into this series went out the door last night if you ask me. The guy is good, but he’s not God like many people made him sound.

Special teams played a big factor in Game 1. The Blackhawks had an extended 5 on 3 in the second period and only managed to get one shot on goal. That is unacceptable. They were 0-3 on the power play in total. Boston, meanwhile, got a power play early in the third to give themselves a 2-goal lead. They were 1-3 on the night with the man advantage, and 0-2 in overtime. I said it before the series that one power play goal could be the difference as to who wins the Cup and who doesn’t. Last night, I was proven wrong as Boston got what looked to be a game-clinching PP goal. They went on to surrender their 2-goal lead in the third and obviously lost in triple OT. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill did give up that big goal in the third, but they then stepped up and went 2-2 in the overtime periods to keep the game at a tie. Call it a wash in Game 1 between Boston’s specialty teams and Chicago’s if you want, but they are going to continue playing a big part in this series.

Turnovers are already playing a big part between these two teams. Look no further than Torey Krug’s giveaway at his own blue line that led to Dave Bolland’s goal in the third. Tuukka Rask called it a “horrible turnover” after the game and said that those plays cannot happen. He’s right. The Blackhawks turned the puck over as well last night, but none of them directly resulted in a goal for Boston. They can’t expect that trend to continue.

A couple areas that people thought Boston would kill Chicago were hits and faceoffs. The hit totals last night actually favored the Blackhawks. They outhit the Bruins 61-59 and proved that they can be a physical team. Faceoffs, which most people thought Boston would dominate, were 58-56 for the Bruins. Yes, they won more than they lost, but only by 2. That is an encouraging sign for the Blackhawks is they can keep that up.

Shot totals were relatively close as the Blackhawks outshot Boston 63-54. However, the Blackhawks directed a total of 132 shots towards Tuukka Rask, while Boston directed 85 at 170403475_slideCrawford. That is a very disturbing stat if you are a Bruins fan or player. Chicago dominated in offensive zone play and demonstrated their ability to get shots off at will, regardless of Boston’s defense. Another startling stat for Boston is the fact that the Jonathan Toews line for the Blackhawks directed over 40 shots toward the net during 5 on 5 play, while Boston’s top line only had about 15. Yes, 2 of those 15 were goals by Lucic, but you could make the case that Chicago’s top line can and could shut down Boston’s over the course of this series.

170403372_slideAnyone who didn’t watch the NHL on a regular basis before watching Game 1 probably thought Zdeno Chara was the best defenseman in NHL history with all the hype he was getting. Yes, he is very good, but he isn’t going to single-handedly shut down the Blackhawks’ offense! The hype he has been getting since Boston won the Eastern Conference is sickening and way too much. He was alright last night, but not great like so many were saying he would be.

There are two ways of looking at Game 1. For Boston, you could say that they played a pretty good game and hung with the Hawks on Chicago’s home ice, but lost in triple overtime. In other words, the Bruins were one bounce away from winning that game. From the Chicago perspective, you can say that you played a not so good first half of the game, and even most of the three overtimes, but you still won. You withstood Boston’s game, which was a good one for the most part, and battled back from a 2-goal, third period deficit to win the game in a third overtime period.

As the series progresses, I’m sure there will be more and more to talk about. But for now, these are the telling stories from Game 1. History has proven that the winner of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup goes on to win the series over 70% of the time. Take that as you would like, but it’s a telling stat. Game 2 will be a big one.