Puck Drop: 8pm Central
TV/RADIO: NBCSN, CBC Up ‘Dere, WGN Radio 720
IN LINE AT SPACE MOUNTAIN: Anaheim Calling. Battle Of California
And now we get to the business end. Someone’s leaving on the brink tonight. And it’s become something of a race to see which happens first: The Hawks lose their legs or the Ducks lose their minds.
If you’re hoping for the latter, the external signs are a mite encouraging. The past couple days have seen quotes in the press about how the Ducks have to keep hitting and proving their manhood, and about how they’re getting jobbed by the refs but are too gentlemanly to complain about it (which is really, really rich).
While the approach by an opponent physically bury the Hawks carries some risk for our Men Of Four Feathers, it carries a much bigger risk for the team that’s racing around everywhere and anywhere in a testosterone fueled rage. If the Ducks are deadset on this, it means that A). They won’t have the puck much and B) they’re going to be leaving huge gaps in the neutral zone for the Hawks to exploit if they can get by the first wave of forecheckers. Letting the Hawks continually hit the attacking blue line with possession over and over again generally has led to doom for everyone who’s tried it.
The Ducks are also contemplating lineup changes, which sounds a bit like Boudreau getting over-coachy. You would have thought he would learn from Q in Game 3. Tomas Fleischmann might come in to play on the 4th line, but they don’t use that unit much at all and if it’s for Etem that would be the Ducks doing the Hawks a favor. The other change being mulled is bringing James Wisniewski back in, for what I can only assume is Clayton Stoner who has gotten buried possession wise in this series (or maybe Cam Fowler? It happened in the regular season). Because it’s always a good idea to bring in a defensively-allergic, dumbass d-man who hasn’t played in over a month to this series. But hey, the Hawks have gotten away with it with Cumiskey so far (who’s not nearly as dumb as Wiz).
For the Hawks, Q has probably learned his lesson (he said while clutching rosary beads) about changing lineups, especially after a win. The big thing to watch is can the top four hold up with the burden they’ve been asked to carry. While the minutes in proportion to the gametime isn’t that high, the sheer amount is and you have to believe at some point they’re going to feel it. On the road, it’s going to be even harder to spot Timonen and Cumiskey to get these guys a breather, but Q might want to try and get them closer to 10 minutes if it’s in anyway possible. It might not be.
For the first four games, the Hawks have come flying out of the gates, rolling the Ducks in the 1st. But they’ve only managed to get a lead after 20 in Games 2 and 4, and slender one-goal ones at that thanks to Andersen. You have to believe this will be a particular focus for the Ducks tonight, because if you keep offering the Hawks dominant possession periods they’re going to come out of it with bigger leads than one goal eventually.
Speaking of Andersen, the hope is that the Hawks have broken down most of the forcefields that he had up through the first three games and two periods of this series. Generally when the Hawks crack a goalie one game, they tend to stay that way. But that’s hardly a given for the ultra-calm Andersen. The Hawks finally either went blocker-side on him or got him moving side to side, where three of their goals came. Expect to see more of that tonight if they’re given the chance.
Also worth watching is with the top line finally busting out in Game 4, and Kesler scoring his only goal of the series when away from Toews, if Boudreau decides to not go to that matchup. I would find it highly unlikely that he would do such a thing, but I also can’t promise he won’t. If he chooses to, it seems like he’s asking for a whole lot of trouble.
While the series is 2-2, and you can argue it could be 3-1 or even over in either direction, the Hawks have had this at even-strength for the greater portion. Again, there’s no reason other than fatigue from the Hawks’ blue line or something inexplicable that should change. The more you play with the Hawks having the better possession, the more likely they are to win. As noted scholar McClure is often fond of quoting, “On a long enough timeline, the survival rate for everyone falls to zero.”
Let’s Go Hawks.