Blackhawks News

Chicago Blackhawks: The End Of Round 1 And What It Means For Round 2

By Gail Kauchak
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Apr 25, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrates a game winning goal with teammates left wing Brandon Saad (20) and defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) and right wing Marian Hossa (81) and center Jonathan Toews (19) against the Nashville Predators during third period in game six of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. The Blackhawks won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Phew!  They did it!  The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Nashville Predators in six games to advance to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

I think I might have to go out and buy a lottery ticket, because not only did I predict the Hawks would win in 6, but I predicted the correct team to win and lose for every game!  I said they’d split in Nashville, with Chicago winning the first and losing the second.  Sure enough, Hawks 4-3 in double overtime, and then a 6-2 loss.  From there I thought they would carry both games at home.  True to form, they won 4-2, and then pulled off a triple overtime marathon to win 3-2.  Unfortunately, the Preds weren’t going to go quietly, and I thought they’d take another one at home, which they did 5-2.  But Chicago didn’t want to face a Game 7 in Nashville, so they took Game 6 at the United Center 4-3 to advance to the next round.

The Chicago Blackhawks will now face the Minnesota Wild, who defeated the St. Louis Blues yesterday to close out that series 4-2.  It’s tough to say which of these two teams would be the best opponent, but with Minnesota winning the Hawks have regained home ice advantage.  Stay tuned to Blackhawk Up for predictions from our staff for Round 2!  In the meantime, let’s take a final look at this last series, and see what it could mean for the next series.

Offense

Demi-god Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews (Selke finalist), and Brandon Saad were a joy to watch in this round.  They did some of their best work during Game 3.  That match up was the first full game where Shea Weber from the Predators was out of the series with an injury.  Nashville hadn’t figured out how to neutralize this top line yet, and the boys took full advantage.  Check out this highlight of Hossa gift wrapping a set-up for Toews.

The second line for most of the series was the old Showtime line of Kris Versteeg, Brad Richards, and Patrick Kane.  With Kaner just coming off injury, these guys were a little slow to warm up, but they got going as the series went along.  They did their best work in Game 5, which ironically was a loss.  Richards and Versteeg both recorded their first goals in the series, and Kane and Richards both tallied assists.  Bryan Bickell took Versteeg’s place on this line for a bit of time in this game, and he assisted on Richards’ goal.  That combination seemed to do well together; it will be interesting to see if Coach Q leans this way for the Minnesota series.

Speaking of Bryan Bickell, he had a team high 35 hits during the Predators series.  He recorded 2 assists in these 6 games, and his physical presence and net front presence were definitely factors.  More of this in Round 2 please.

Patrick Sharp had 3 goals and 2 assists for the series.  His shots on goal are always among the highest on the team, and he presents a definite threat on Chicago’s third line.

Antoine Vermette was a surprise healthy scratch for the first 2 games of the series, but got his chance in Game 3 and has been in the lineup ever since.  He’s done quite well on the dot, going 44%, 60%, 50%, and 65% respectively in Games 3, 4, 5, and 6.  He hasn’t offered much on the score sheet, but he did tally a goal in Game 4.  Vermey needs to continue to lead possession with his face offs, and look to build on contributing more offensively.

Even fourth liner Andrew Desjardins contributed with a goal in Game 3.  Like Vermette, Desjardins sat for Games 1 and 2, but has been in the lineup since.  Desi takes Teuvo Teravainen’s place on the fourth line, but his solid play and experience certainly makes an argument for him to continue into the next round.

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Defense.

The tried and true pairing of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya looked a little shaky during Games 5 and 6 of this last series.  Perhaps it was Swedish heritage week and they were out drinking too much or something.  But these guys have to pull it together because they are usually tasked with shutting down the opponent’s top lines.  If past history means anything, they will be back to being reliable and consistent going forward.  I have faith.

Let’s all just take a deep breath and accept the fact that Michal Rozsival and Kimmo Timonen are here to stay.  It’s a last hurrah for the old veterans.  There will be plenty of time for the new guys next year, but for now Coach Q wants these guys’ experience more than taking a chance on the youngsters.  Are they a weak link?  Of course they are, and this is cause for frustration for many Hawks fans.

But they are being neutralized a bit by Rozy getting paired with Duncan Keith and Kimmo getting paired with Brent Seabrook.  And when things get dicey, Seabs and Keith are put together and they are eating lots of extra minutes.  Let’s hope this not so ideal situation doesn’t come back to bite the Hawks, because it’s not going to change.

For all the frustration the defense has caused on the defensive end, they certainly have made up for it on the offensive end.  It was Niklas Hjalmarsson that scored the first goal to get the Hawks back into the fight in Game 1.  Brent Seabrook scored the last goal to give them a good cushion in Game 3, and the triple overtime game winner in Game 4.  And Duncan Keith was the hero with the double overtime winner in Game 1, and the late score to win in Game 6. That’s some pretty massive contributions from the D-corp.

Apr 25, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) replaces goalie Scott Darling (33) in the first period in game six of the first round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Goaltending

You couldn’t have written a better script for the way the goaltending situation went down in this series.  Corey Crawford struggled in the first two games, and rookie sensation Scott Darling came in to save the day.  Coach Quenneville rode the hot hand all the way through to Game 6, even though Darling struggled and gave up 3 goals late in the third period of Game 5.

Early on in Game 6 it was obvious that Darling was in over his skates, and the Preds had figured him out.  But never fear, the Chicago Blackhawks had a Stanley Cup winning goalie sitting on the bench!  I know I’m a girl, but I got all choked up when Crow and Chewie (a.k.a Lemont Native Scott Darling!) embraced as they switched places during Saturday night’s game.

Who does that and how do they do that?!  Fighting tooth and nail for the same position, but yet they still support and encourage each other.  They’re friends and teammates and they strive to bring out the best in each other.  Champions do that, that’s who.

Special Teams

Well this needs to improve.  The Hawks went 3 for 19 on the power play in this series.  That’s only 15.8%.  Kaner please help!  They’ve won the Cup twice with a sub-par power play, but this was when the Hawks had a really good penalty kill.

The Predators scored 6 power play goals in 22 chances over 6 games.  Courtesy of Scott Powers of ESPN, the Hawks only allowed 7 PP goals in their entire playoff run last year (19 games), and 7 PP goals in the 2013 playoffs (23 games).  Well, the penalty kill looked pretty good for the most of the regular season, so we have this to fall back on.  And if the Hawks could stop taking stupid penalties (I’m talking to you Andrew Shaw), this could be a step in the right direction.

Intangibles. 

One thing I have noticed over the years is that Joel Quenneville really seems to thrive in the post season.  This is his specialty; this is what he lives for.  Other coaches that come to mind in this category are Mike Babcock of Detroit and Darryl Sutter of Los Angeles.   These coaches are some of the best at what they do, and it’s fascinating to watch them do it.

During the regular season, on any given night you have a different opponent.  But a best of 7 series is a whole different animal.  You have the same opponent anywhere from 4 to 7 games in a row.  It’s about getting the best match ups out of your own team, and neutralizing the weapons the other team brings to the table.  What doesn’t work for one game you tweak for the next game.  You are able to learn from your mistakes and capitalize on your strengths in a very tangible way.

It’s about getting the best out of every single player; and remember every player is motivated a little differently.   A line combination that worked well in the regular season might not do the trick against the line combination of your playoff opponent.  This is why chemistry and adaptability are so important.  I’m convinced that Coach Q handles the regular season as mere practice for the playoffs.  This is why we all scratch our heads at so many of his decisions.  But he has the big picture in mind, and that’s getting as far into the postseason as he possibly can.

The Blackhawks also have experience on their side.  The core players came together and utilized their strong character to win Game 6 and the series.  4 goals were scored, by Sharp, Toews, Kane, and Keith.  All 4 of these players were around for Cup wins in both 2010 and 2013.  Leadership at its best.

So the Chicago Blackhawks will face the Minnesota Wild in Round 2.  I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted from just watching this last round.  But we must regroup, because we’re just getting started!

FOR THE CUP!!!

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