While at face value, Game 4’s preview could qualify as a textbook motherfuck with the fates aligning to subject the general public to another game in this series, it has also been reiterated numerous times that it was going to take something truly weird for the Hawks to even push it to this point, and this indeed what happened. So, as usual, once again we are right in our analysis.
Corey Crawford’s tremendous performance in Game 4 notwithstanding, none of the particulars of this series really change. The Golden Knights still have four lines they can roll out there that are all at least as fast as even the Hawks top lines, and clearly much faster than anything the Hawks can handle on the blue line. With Paul Stastny having been out for the past two games they’ve barely missed a beat, and in fact it might be an actual benefit for DeBoer to have an excuse to reunite Karlsson, Smith and Marchessault. In the last two games since Stastny’s absence, the trio have sported a 65 share in about 21 minutes of 5v5 ice time, and that’s without the benefit of last change. Though at this point it’s probably best to just decide to not too granular with the possession numbers after Game 4, considering so many people are appallingly without healthcare at the moment during These Unprecedented Times. And on that note, given the full lockdown of gameday skates and how injuries are being handled in an official capacity this post season, it’s truly anyone’s guess right now whether Stastny makes the bell for tonight’s game, but either way DeBoer clearly feels confident in deploying any of his four lines in basically any situation,
Another contributing factor to this game even happening tonight was Robin Lehner returning from getting spelled by Marc-Andre Fleury for the front half of the back to back, and having himself a moment or two. While there’s not a lot to be done about the first Hawks goal from Drake Caggiula, his attempted headbutt of Matthew Highmore’s fling from the corner below the goal line certainly wasn’t the best idea in retrospect. Sure, it’s ultimately a bad bounce, but it still was a completely avoidable one, and unfortunately did not precipitate the meltdown that still has the potential of rearing it’s head.
As for the Hawks, Game 4 was just the latest in a decade plus list of things that should have never have even been asked of Corey Crawford, and yet once again like The Giving Tree, he provided. Once again tonight could very well be the last time Crawford appears in a Hawk uniform, and at the end of this there will be a full re-assessment of just what Crawford has been through and what he has actually done for this franchise while the threat of being replaced by a perceived better option was constantly looming, and one need only look at the opposite crease to be reminded of that.
In front of Crawford, the offensive explosion from Olli Maatta will need to continue, and if Game 4’s allotment of ice time is any indication where Maata got 21 minutes, he’ll have every opportunity to do so. Of course, that comes at the expense of trying to get Adam Boqvist into more advantageous situations, but at this point under Jeremy Bevington there aren’t many scenarios that aren’t detrimental to his long term development, which will of course lead to him being traded to be able to hang on to Maata in the flattened cap off season. He and de Haan got absolutely domed in possession on Sunday, and it will not be a shock at all if Boqvist is benched once again.
Speaking of benchings, Alex Nylander not only continues to dress, but also get power play time on the second unit in elimination scenarios. While throwing a cold defenseman in against this Knights forward corps is something that should be charged with either criminal negligence or depraved indifference, telling Dylan Sikura to get in there and just skate like his ass is on fire does next to no harm, and certainly not as much harm as Nylander standing still corralling a pass in his skates, stickhandling into the corner and getting plastered into the boards, or biffing a shot attempt. It might just yield a positive result, it certainly hasn’t been attempted yet.
Make no mistake, the Hawks are in no way coming all the way back in this series, even if aided by multiple acts of god, and they already got one of those on Sunday from Crawford. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ghoulish things to root for like a Lehner meltdown or the power play inexplicably going off (hey, Alex DeBrincat looked lively!) or some combination thereof to keep things interesting. But the end is certainly nigh, it’s just a matter of when at this point. Ride the Snake.