Dating back three years to the 2010 Final against Philadelphia, the Hawks have lost the first game away from the United Center in six straight series. Overall in that time frame, the Hawks have gone 7-10 on the road, and 3-4 this post season. And in order to win this series, the Hawks will now have to win at least one game on the road, with the first of potentially three games in Boston tonight.
For the hosting Bruins, getting out of Chicago with a split is probably something they’re pleased with, even if they and the masses could have just as easily had both were it not for some shin pads in Game 1.
There were many positives for the B’s to take away from Games 1 and 2, namely that they were able to get a victory in Game 2 without any output from their juggernaut top line of Krejci, Lucic, and Horton, who clearly went all Detective Riggs and jammed his shoulder back into place in time to get back out on the ice. And though they didn’t score, it could be argued that Lucic’s play was still a net positive by continually wearing out Hjalmarsson and Oduya by laying into them whenever possible. This .gif surely warms the hearts of New England.
Another plus for the Bruins is that they were able to get the split while not getting any goals from their defensemen, who have 15 already this post season, though they did come perilously close in the 2nd overtime on a Zdeno Chara slapper. The play of Tuukka Rask, especially after a deflating triple-OT loss can be viewed as exceptional as well, especially with the onslaught of chances against in the early going of Game 2, which kept the B’s in it long enough to prevail in overtime. But there is the double edged sword.
In both Game 1 and Game 2 (and more than a bonus game’s worth of OT), the Bruins have been pretty roundly out-chanced up and down the lineup. Against a team like the Hawks, giving this many opportunities at even strength is not sustainable over a series, no matter how good the goaltending and defensive zone coverage is. Well, maybe it is, right Mike Smith?
One area contributing to those numbers was the faceoff dot, where the Bruins’ dominance this post season was a clear advantage coming into the series, but ended up not being so in games 1 and 2. The Bruins won 97 of 186 draws, good for 52.1%, but that’s a far cry from the 56% they were winning as a team coming into the series, and those extra possessions count far more against the Hawks. With the series shifting to Boston where the home team has the advantage of putting their stick down second (along with the matchup Claude Julien desires), look for that number to spike back upward, forcing the Hawks to chase more.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, it’s been confirmed that Viktor Stalberg will once again be in the lineup, this time on the fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik. Stalberg obviously hasn’t produced much more than a sideshow these playoffs, but his speed is definitely a problem that the Bruins’ defensemen will have to account for, particularly if he gets his chances against the third pairing of Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug, who figure to be far more sheltered tonight and Wednesday with last change. Stalberg has a clear size advantage on Krug and a definite speed advantage on McQuaid, so forcing them to make decisions faster than they’d like could go a long way in jumpstarting his dormant game.
The top three lines for the Hawks remain the same, and quite simply, the Hawks are going to need more out of Toews and Kane for the Hawks to be successful. Yes, Toews has been dominating possession, but at a certain point that has to manifest itself in goals, because as was on full display Saturday night, failure to capitalize on that zone time keeps the game only a shot away at any time, and some times that’s all it takes. Look Q to hit frappe on the blender by the second tonight and get these two together again if the B’s are still able to keep them in shackles.
Another way to prevent hours of overtime hockey being played would to convert on the fucking clown shoes power play. If there’s a worry that the hits will build up over the course of the series for the Hawks, potting one on the advantage will at least make those spoked-B clad cave trolls think twice before barrelling into someone on the end boards. Because the Bruins cover the slot in front of Rask so well, more low-high plays need to be attempted, both at even strength and on the power play. It’s yielded three goals, so far (Saad, Oduya, and Shaw courtesy of Rozsival), and can yield more if it’s exploited properly. The key will be for Hawk forwards to engage along the boards and in the corners to occupy a defender, then kicking the puck high for a shot through traffic. And just because Andrew Shaw loves shin pads doesn’t mean you should aim for them, Mr. Keith.
Even with last change on West Madison, Quenneville elected to send out the Swedes against the Krejci line for both of the first two games, with mixed results. Without the benefit of picking his matchups tonight, Nick Leddy and Michael Rozsival need to be on full alert in their own zone. As for Corey Crawford behind them, tightening up the rebound control for what are sure to be the oncoming hordes will be absolutely paramount.
Obviously the Garden faithful will be at near psychotic levels of fervor at puck drop, and the Bruins are perfectly built to feed off of that. They’ll come at Hawk defensemen looking to put them in the 15th row, and might just succeed more than a few times. For that reason alone, the Hawks puck support early must be impeccable, both from defensive partners and forwards. Giving the puck carrier a 15 foot target is far perferable than one 70 up ice with 4 other black sweaters in its path. Additionally, the Bruins forwards will be deep enough to give the Hawks space enough to at least hit their own blue line with speed exiting before hitting the neutral zone bog Julien is sure to employ.
In a true case of “Unstoppable Force vs. Immovable Object”, the results of this series will come down to which takes its toll first- the Hawks making the Bruins skate, or the Bruins wearing the Hawks down physically. And games 1 and 2 be damned, scoring the first goal is not something to be avoided based on the outcomes of the previous two games. It will go a long way at quelling the oncoming tide of black and gold. Patience, smarts, and above all else speed are going to need to be on full display tonight if the Hawks are going to get any closer to their goal. If there’s a texbook road game in this team’s capabilities, it’s sure as fuck time to see it. Let’s go Hawks.