The Western Conference finals series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks is at an interesting point. The teams split the first four games, with each squad securing a road victory. In the most recent outing, the ’Hawks finally pushed some pucks past Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen. They also permitted three goals in 37 seconds, a bizarre occurrence to say the least.
So here we are ahead of tonight’s Game 5 at the Honda Center in California. Chicago keeps on keeping on, crushing Anaheim in puck possession through much of the series. Meanwhile, the Ducks keep jabbering to the media with apparent confidence over their position.
The ’Hawks have bigger things to think about than what the Ducks are saying off the ice. Here are three of them ahead of today’s game:
May 3, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Patrick Sharp (10) celebrates scoring a goal during the third period in game two of the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center. Chicago won 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Further utilizing the third line. This goes beyond Antoine Vermette scoring the game-winning goal in his return to the lineup, although it was a fantastic result after his unnecessary benching in Game 3. The third line continues to be stellar in possession and creating chances, as the Ducks put more of a focus on stopping the ’Hawks’ top two lines. Patrick Sharp was plus-10 in Corsi-for percentage, Teuvo Teravainen checked in at plus-5 and Vermette logged a plus-4 in Game 4.
But the trio is still seeing the fewest minutes among ’Hawks forwards, as coach Joel Quenneville seems unsure how to utilize it. He sends Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa out to do a little bit of everything. He uses Bryan Bickell, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane to produce offensively. And Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Shaw are out to shut down the opposition’s attack. So where does it leave the third line? With some more minutes in Game 5 (and beyond), it can be the tide-turner on offense.
Vermette is a monster at the dot. Teuvo has spectacular vision, as evidenced with his pass to Sharp in the third period of Game 4 that led to a breakaway chance. Teuvo also has a great shot, although he doesn’t seem totally comfortable using it yet. And Sharp, though not fully in his prime anymore, is still a stellar goal scorer. And the three have chemistry together, as evidenced by their ability to successfully possess the puck.
Q needs to offer the three a few more shifts moving forward, and he needs to implore them to get the puck on net when possible. The three combined for just five individual scoring chances in Game 4, and Teuvo and Vermette had just three shot attempts apiece (tied for lowest among Chicago forwards), according to War on Ice. With an unleashed third line, a lot of pressure is taken off the top two lines, from a scoring perspective. That starts with a vote of confidence from The Stache.
Da Windy City
Keep it simple clearing the zone. This applies to the entire Chicago team, not just the defensemen. Several times in Game 4, the ’Hawks were guilty of leaving the defensive zone too soon. The Ducks were often able to cut in front of ’Hawks players waiting for passes, creating instant scoring chances with three Anaheim forwards odd-man rushing two Chicago defensemen. ’Hawkws defensemen had issues with turnovers in Game 4, as miscues by Niklas Hjalmarsson and Kimmo Timonen led directly to Ducks’ strikes.
Viewers might point to the theory the ’Hawks’ top four defensemen are overplayed and to the Ducks physicality in this series as reasons for the turnovers. But there is a way for Chicago to effectively exit the defensive zone regardless of these barriers: short support passes. If the ’Hawks defensemen have forwards nearby to accept short passes that can then be carried into the neutral zone, we don’t have to worry about the Ducks smashing into the Chicago defensemen and ripping the puck away for easy opportunities.
The Ducks are confident their heavy-hitting style will destroy the ’Hawks. Many a team has employed that tactic in the past, and the ’Hawks have overcome it. With a simple approach to things such as leaving the defensive zone, Anaheim’s physicality is rendered less effective.