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Bitter Divisions – Game 3 – Blues vs Hawks Preview, Pregame Thread, Brush Fire

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Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, CNBC, CBC (Angl0), RDSI (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Moral High Ground From Below Sea Level: SLGT

With the series now turning north and back to the west side tonight, the Hawks find themselves in an unfortunately familiar spot, down two games to an opponent, something that has happened each of the last three playoff years. And this go-around might be the most rancorous yet.

The Blues come into tonight with two games on the Hawks, however Captain Punchy will as expected be out of the lineup (despite making the trip) as a result of the game-turning hit delivered to him by the now suspended Brent Seabrook. In between lunches and wasted breath on how important Backes is to the Blues, Ken Hitchcock managed to reconfigure his lines accordingly, with Alex Steen shifting to the middle of the top line between Timothy Leif and Steve Ott. The second line will remain the same with Sobotka pivoting Schwartz and Tarasenko, but the third will sport a bit of a different look. The ineffective one-tme potential Hawks savior Derek Roy will have a seat in favor of the now healthy-ish Patrik Berglund, who is returning to the lineup after missing time with the increasingly popular “upper body injury”, and will still be flanked by the Mensa squad of Brenden Morrow and Ryan Reaves. And scoring threats Adam Cracknell and Kevin Porter will stay on the fourth line with Max Lapierre.

In moving Steen to center, the Blues will take a slight dip in faceoff proficiency from Backes, though Steen isn’t terrible at 49.0 to Backes’ 51.7 in the regular season. And Ott can always chip in at the dot as well. Steen is also not clueless in his own zone either and can draw tougher assignments, but does not have the size advantage that Backes has on most. For Berglund, he’s always shown to have the physical tools but not quite put the full package together at any given point, but even being at partial health is likely an upgrade from what Roy had been giving them.

On the back end things will remain the same for the Blues, though being on the road could expose Kevin Shattenkirk to more defensive zone draws than Ken Hitchcock would likely find ideal. Ryan Miller, who has found some semblance of his game after getting torched in the opening period of game one and thus far outdueled Corey Crawford (to the extent that goalies directly duel one another) will need to continue his stable play with the Blues now on the road, which has not been kind to them in recent playoffs past.

As for our Men of Four Feathers, the mantra coming out of game 2’s dick punch of a defeat has been that they need to play “their” game and not the Blues’. The problem has been that “their” game has been difficult to find on a consistent basis all year, against the Blues or anyone else. The defense needs to absorb the hits of the St. Louis forecheckers while finding the space behind them to key an attack the other way as a five-man unit, rather than blindly firing the puck up the boards or attempting a stretch pass to the far blue line.

That corps will obviously be without Brent Seabrook, and Sheldon Brookbank will hop directly into his place on the top pairing with Duncan Keith, with Joel Quenneville opting to keep his other two pairings in tact. However, look for Keith to get a rotating cavalcade of partners when Brookbank inevitably can’t keep up and/or gets into a predictably stupid fight with Ryan Reaves.

Much of the onus will fall on the forwards as well, who will need to come back deeper into the zone for breakouts without Seabrook’s outlet passing ability anyway. They should be doing that anyway even were Seabrook in the lineup, but hopefully it’ll serve as a catalyst to do so on a full time basis. Michal Handzus and Brandon Bollig remain in the active groupings for tonight despite neither providing anything at even strength in games one and two. And the Hawks should probably not plan on needing Handzus for at least five penalty kills this evening if they have hopes of extending this series, but that’s just a thought.

The aforementioned Corey Crawford will also need to tighten things up in net tonight, as a .900 save percentage isn’t going to cut it in a series unless it’s 2010 and Michael Leighton is in the other crease. Crawford fell on both his own and Joel Quenneville’s swords in the press, which was deserving to a certain degree, but for the most part not. Either way this series doesn’t allow for the usual leeway of one Crawford boner a game.

Optimists among the fandom have stated that the Hawks were less than two minutes from walking out of St. Louis with 2 regulation wins while not playing their best. And while that might be empirically true, it’s then reasonable to expect that their best would have yielded a 2-0 lead rather than a deficit. If they’ve still got “their best” and “their game” in them, tonight is the night they need to put it on display. Let’s go Hawks.

If you’re going to tonight’s game pick up our gameday program outside the arena. If you aren’t, you can get tonight’s Committed Indian right here: 

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