Blackhawks look to even series
Why is it a must-win? Because after one of the most dominant regular seasons in the past 5, maybe 10 years of the NHL, the Blackhawks are finally showing signs of vulnerability. The Red Wings have shown that they have the leadership, physicality, speed, and game-plan necessary to beat their Mid-West rivals. And in order for the Blackhawks to even the series up and get back to their winning ways, here are the three things that need to happen:
3. Pressure Detroit’s Back Line
Apart from top Defenders Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, the Wings back line is extremely vulnerable. A unit that has been desecrated by injuries all season, the Wings defense played one of their best games all year in Game 2 of the series, limiting Chicago to 20 shots. In Game 3, Chicago’s shots on goal doubled, but they were still only able to put one goal past Jimmy Howard. Defensively, the Wings have closed down key passing routes the last two games, constantly frustrating the Chicago offense and not allowing them to get comfortable in the offensive end.
What Anaheim did most effectively against the Wings in round one was take on the weaker Detroit Defenders one-on-one. Speedy Ducks skaters Emerson Etem and Andrew Cogliano weaved around in the offensive zone constantly and set-up a ton of scoring opportunities for their team.
With playmakers like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa just to name a few, the Blackhawks have the ability to really out-maneuver Detroit’s second and third defensive lines. That’s how the Blackhawks pulled away in Game 1 and if they can get behind Detroit’s defense again Thursday, things will look a lot better.
2. Wake Up the Power Play
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such an overall talented offensive team struggle so much on the power play. The Blackhawks have so much speed and gamesmanship that it would only make sense for their power play to be dominant, but right now they look consistently sloppy and unmotivated with an extra attacker on the ice.
The better this unit can execute, the better chance they’ll have at taking care of key #1…
1. Solve the Howard Puzzle
Outside of a 2-goal 3rd period in Game 1, Jimmy Howard has been a brick wall against the Chicago offense. In the last two games, Howard has saved 58 out of 60 shots - a ridiculous 39-save effort in Game 3. Kane has netted both goals, one on a breakaway and the other on a 3-on-1 advantage.
Toews has had an active series so far and doesn’t deserve quite as much scrutiny as he’s received for not scoring yet in the 2013 playoffs, but he needs to take his game up to the next level and make sure his team puts some points on the board. Patrick Sharp has had a number of chances that he’s failed to cash in on the last few games, while Saad and speedster Viktor Stalberg have knocked on the door quite a few times as well.
A hot Goaltender can take a team a long way on his own and when you throw in veteran leaders like Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, the Wings pose a dangerous obstacle to the Blackhawks and their run to the cup.