After a deflating OT loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last night, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are right back at it tonight on their home ice against the Central Division-leading St. Louis Blues. The Blues have gone from a force to be reckoned with to a force of domination; going 9-0-1 in their last ten games. In much the same way a surging Blackhawks franchise demanded respect from the established Detroit Red Wings in the mid-1990’s and mid-2000’s, the Blues are making sure the Hawks know they are for real this season, and remain undefeated by our boys in red, white, and black. Well it’s time for that to change! Here are 5 ways for the Blackhawks to put the Blues back in their place:
#5 – Know What’s Really on the Line
Call me irritated, not Ishmael, because the Blackhawks have already let one proverbial white whale swim off into the horizon this regular season by not figuring out how to post a win against Semyon Varlamov. While beating the Blues tonight earns an invaluable two points for the Hawks in the standings, there’s a bigger payout from a morale standpoint. The Colorado Avalanche are a great team, but I’ll argue in court that they’re only as good as Varlamov makes them. The Blues on the other hand are a rock-solid team all up and down. They have size, speed, scoring-ability, and now consistently-solid goaltending between the pipes with Ryan Miller. The very real prospect of the Hawks facing the Avs in the first round of the playoffs is nerve-racking enough, so tallying at least one regular season win against the Blues would be a tremendous psychological harpoon in the boat should the Hawks have to face St. Louis in the second round (knock on wood). Furthermore, beating a team like the Blues would be a tremendous jumping-off point for some much needed momentum going into the post season. The last time the Blackhawks took an Olympic hiatus, they came back to post a 6-7-2 record in the following month. However, they also put together a 6-0-1 streak in April to ride hard into the 2010 playoffs that ended at the historic destination of a drought-busting Stanley Cup. So here’s hoping the Hawks realize the potential of a W tonight so we can start slicing the victory pizza at Pequods after the 3rd. PS – Moby Dick reference count: 4.
#4 – Keep the Madhouse on Madison Mad!
Between an absolutely brutal winter and lackluster play from our Blackhawks lately Chicago denizens are understandably irked and on edge. They’ve had it with cold weather and tepid play from their boys on Madison since the end of the Olympics. So tonight the Blackhawks need to do their best to steer all this ire in the Blues direction at the United Center. In other words, get the crowd involved and keep them involved. If the Hawks hit the ice with high energy, the Madhouse on Madison will respond in kind. More importantly, the Blackhawks need to use their home-crowd advantage to keep momentum away from the Blues by dolling out body checks, shooting the puck early and often, and even dropping the gloves when necessary, regardless of the score, to keep the stands jumping and chomping at the bit. Hawks fans, if you want to dance to Chelsea Dagger tonight, you need to let the Blackhawks know you’ve got their back, and let the Blues know this is our Madhouse!
#3 – Push the %#&* Back!
We all know the Blues are a big-bodied team, but here’s the thing, the Blues know it too. When it comes to playing physical teams, because they’re a puck-possession team, the Blackhawks usually opt to let their skill and speed get the job done while their opponent becomes obsessed with dishing out the bodywork. More often than not it works, but when it doesn’t the Hawks can find themselves in a hole real fast; i.e. the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins series in last year’s post season. Obviously we know eventually the Blackhawks push back when their getting knocked around, but it usually takes a few games in a playoff series to do it, but this is still the regular season and this is a single game. Given how quickly team leaders like David Backes and Barret Jackman resort to thuggery, it’s a safe bet the Blues will come into the game looking to throw their weight around to bully and intimidate the Hawks, as they have before time and again. Tonight however, the Hawks to need to remind the Blues what happens to bullies in the end, and fight back earlier than they have in the past. I’m not talking about just the usual suspects of Brandon Bollig, Bryan Bickell, and Andrew Shaw doling out punishment and retributions, but every Blackhawk on the ice. The Hawks need to make the Blues realize tonight that if they take a run at one player, they’re taking a run at the entire team, and that no one on that team will take it lightly.
#2 – Come Out Firing!
The tragedy of the Blackhawks this season when it comes to the Blues is that for all intents and purposes, the Hawks should be 1-1-1 against St. Louis instead of 0-1-2. Why? Because the Hawks have already demonstrated they have the ability to light up the Blues. The last time these two teams faced off, the Blackhawks came out blazing; posting an explosive three goals in the first, but ultimately ended up losing 5-6 in OT because newbie net-minder Antti Raanta laid an egg. In order to come away with a win this evening, the Blackhawks’ league-leading offense needs to make good on its ranking and pull the trigger first and often on offense because unfortunately, the Blues have a lot of fire power themselves, and this game could very likely turn into another blow-for-blow bout. Thus, if the Hawks want to win, they need to land the first and the last punch.
#1 – Protect the %#&$!?* Lead!
If the Hawks do land the first punch on the scoreboard, then equally important is protecting it. This has nothing to do with the Blackhawks surrendering a two goal lead last night in Philly, though it’s rather ironic the Hawks lost in such a fashion going into tonight’s match-up. As I said already, the Hawks need to come out blitzing against the Blues and get the lead early to put them against the wall, but more importantly, the Blackhawks need to keep them there the whole game. As the Hawks among others (the Tampa Bay Lightning and Phoenix Coyotes being the Blues most recent victims) have experienced firsthand this season, the Blues can be notorious come-from-behind artists. Case in point: in their past ten games the Blues have scored 14 third period goals. So the writing is on the wall for the Hawks: if ever there was a team whose collective throat you need to keep your boot on for all three periods, it’s the St. Louis Blues. Furthermore, if ever the Blackhawks needed to demonstrate they can be effective without the puck, it’s tonight, because the Blues will make them pay for every mistake they make, no matter its size or nature. The best mentality the Hawks can adopt tonight is the mindset that they’re down by two goals, no matter what’s on the scoreboard, all game long, because if the Hawks let up on the pressure, bad things will happen with a team like the St. Louis Blues.
Suffice it to say, for the Blackhawks to beat the Blues all aspects of their game need to be sharp for all three periods because St. Louis won’t allow them an inch, anywhere. It’ll be an exciting contest with both teams playing for more than immediate stats and standings. The newly-rekindled rivalry of the Central Division is going to write another chapter in their storied history tonight, so let’s make sure it’s written in red, white, and black.
FOR THE DAGGER!