Yes, I am covering my ears and refusing to hear anything you’re saying about Alex Barkov being out, rendering these wins meaningless. The Blackhawks HAD to get points this weekend and they did. Let’s celebrate that and hope that this series gives the Hawks the confidence to continue playing good…ish down the stretch.
We all recognized the things the Blackhawks needed to do to succeed against the Panthers this series: solid defense, good goaltending, Patrick Kane back on the offensive, getting the powerplay going again and not taking dumb penalties. They were able to do a solid 2½ of these things. Let’s take a look at what went down. To the bullets!
- As we are all aware of by now, Kubalik has not been getting the minutes he deserves. But I like his play on the second line with Brandon Hagel. They had a really nice goal on Tuesday, with Hagel able to make a pass through a defender to Kubalik in front of the net, who was able to slip it past Driedger. If you enjoy statistics, the Hagel-Kampf-Kubalik line leads the team in expected goals percentage by a bit of a margin at 68.4%. More please.
- With the Blackhawks’ solid win on Tuesday, it was no surprise they won the possession battle there. They dominated in the 1st period with a 60 CF%, and then stayed slightly under 50% possession in the 2nd and 3rd periods to end the game just edging out the Panthers in this metric. Tonight, however, the Blackhawks went back to their loveable old selves, getting completely skulled in possession throughout the entire game. The Panthers are a top-10 possession team in the league, so I’m just glad we got out of this series without too much damage.
- Numbers-wise, theoretically, Chris Driedger is one of the better goalies in the league. Of active goalies who have started 10+ games in the NHL this season, he’s 10th in the league in goals against average and 6th in save percentage. Bobrovsky’s numbers push him much further down the list. Neither goaltenders looked spectacular this series against the Hawks, exposing this team that obviously finds success in outscoring their goaltending woes. With their top scorer in Barkov out and Lankinen playing on his head, it just seemed to be a little too much for Florida. They have a playoff spot all but locked up anyway and Barkov should be back soon, so this will probably just be a series they will quickly forget.
- As long as Nikita Zadorov is on this team, you can subtract as many months off my life expectancy. I have truly had it with this oaf. He had an assist Tuesday but at this point I do not care. He took two penalties tonight, the second one a truly magical hit that laid out Patric Hornqvist and gave the Panthers a critical powerplay chance in the 3rd. Oh, and Zadorov skated completely out of position to take this hit, because WHAT IS DEFENSE.
- One of the things the Blackhawks needed to do in order to get back into the win column was getting Patrick Kane to show some life. He had two points total in the four games prior to this series (though he was trying his best to get something going with 16 total shots on goal during that time). Kane boasted 4 points in the series and has continued to create chances for others, becoming the assist king as of recent. Thanks for sharing the wealth, Kaner.
- The Hawks did a good job limiting their penalty kill time in Tuesday night’s game, and it definitely paid off. They only took two penalties and only allowed one powerplay goal from the Panthers. (To compare, in the series from hell against Tampa last week they took six total penalties and allowed two powerplay goals.) Progress? I guess. Thursday’s game was certainly another story, however, as stupid penalties (and calls) were had by all. However, the Blackhawks were able to kill the whopping six penalties thanks to Kevin Lankinen playing at an elite status.
- Speaking of Lanks, he did a good job of keeping the Blackhawks in it Thursday after a Duclair crossbar reignited the Panthers’ offense for a time. He also made some big saves towards the end of the second after getting clunked in the head. And he also saved a three-on-none chance because again, WHAT IS DEFENSE. The takeaway here is that Kevin Lankinen saved the day, stopping 41 shots. His rebound control still occasionally makes me cringe, but hopefully that will…improve with time?
The Blackhawks get to face off against the Nashville Predators this weekend, who just crushed the Detroit Red Wings and had some guy named Rocco Grimaldi score a hat trick in the 1st period of the game. The Predators are vying for the fourth playoff spot and dropping this series against them would tie us in the standings. Even splitting the series would bring the Predators too close for comfort to the fourth-place spot. It’s going to be another sweep-or-bust situation. Let’s go Hawks.