Editorials

Stanley Cup Playoffs: These Blackhawks Not Same As Past Teams

By Colin Likas
Apr 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) skates past St. Louis Blues center David Backes (42) during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) skates past St. Louis Blues center David Backes (42) during the second period in game three of the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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This isn’t exactly uncharted territory for the Chicago Blackhawks, in that they trail their first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the St. Louis Blues 2-1. The same thing happened in 2014. And the 2015 Blackhawks trailed their conference finals series against Anaheim and Stanley Cup Final series against Tampa Bay 2-1.

But something is different this time, right? I don’t think it has to do with the opponent, though. Outside of goaltender Brian Elliott, the Blues are still being the Blues. Frankly, they haven’t done much to impress me (outside Elliott), and I still see the Blackhawks taking this series. The entire Blackhawk Up staff selected the Blackhawks to win this series in 6 or 7 games, and both of those options are still on the table.

But there is something different this time. And it has to do with the Blackhawks. What made me start thinking about this was the team dropping a third-period lead and losing in regulation, something it hadn’t done since the 2013-14 season. That’s pretty crazy, and it may be telling of some issues with this team that we were concerned would get exposed in the postseason.

No, one of those issues isn’t luck or a lack thereof. Sure, Corey Crawford got about as raw of a deal as a goaltender can get with pucks deflecting all around him and three finding the back of the net during a mostly-stellar performance. And sure, Andrew Ladd double-posted a shot that could’ve put the Blackhawks ahead 3-1 and possibly broken the Blues. But there’s more to these Blackhawks’ different appearance from their predecessors than luck alone.

For one, these Blackhawks have struggled mightily to take advantage of golden opportunities. I’m still of the opinion the Blues will crack when faced with a more daunting deficit than a tie game or one-goal disadvantage. It was seen in Game 2 when they pretty much melted down after having a goal waved off late in the third period, with a frustrated Vladimir Tarasenko hacking Patrick Kane‘s stick and then being visibly infuriated over his penalization for it. The Blackhawks cashed in on that entire scenario, but it’s the only time we’ve really seen them do that in three games.

The Blackhawks were granted tons of powerplays early in Game 3, and they only converted on one. They had chances on all their man advantages, but they just couldn’t hit the twine. Some of this comes back to Elliott, but can you honestly think of how many stellar saves Elliott has had to make so far and say it’s larger than the number Crawford has been tasked with? The Blackhawks are making Elliott look really good by way of a lack of conversion and just not making him work that hard. The volume of shots is one thing, but quality is another entirely.

Quality of shots brings up another issue. The Blackhawks would certainly see more success if they carried the puck below the circles. It’s how two of their four goals in this series occurred, and it was almost three of five if Ladd hadn’t hit both posts yesterday. Instead, the Blackhawks seem content to play the Blues’ style, launching shots from up high and trying to deflect them past Elliott. They really don’t need to be doing this for two reasons:

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— The Blues defensemen are large individuals who are soaking up almost everything with their legs and skates

— The Blackhawks have enough skilled players who can go down low and beat Elliott much more easily

Are the Blackhawks avoiding the net front to some extent because of the punishment they’ll get from the Blues? Maybe, but more recent versions of this team wouldn’t have been concerned about that. It seems as if some of these Blackhawks are hesitant to get down low, and that’s where they really need to be.

Speaking of the Blues’ style of play, the Blackhawks have also let the Blues dictate the pace of play. We all knew the Blues would run around hitting everything in sight, and that’s fine. The Blackhawks have shown in the past they can overcome that by sticking to their own style of play (see last year’s Anaheim series). But now, the Blackhawks almost appear to be trying to out-Blues the Blues. This is an extremely foolish tactic and should by quashed by coach Joel Quenneville right away. While this group of Blackhawks might be missing some of the skill and speed of previous groups, they can still use these ideas to outmaneuver the Blues and their hard-hitting strategy.

One other issue we haven’t seen often in recent postseasons that is coming up now is the lack of star scoring for the Blackhawks. Again, some of this can be attributed to the Blues defenders and Elliott in net, but it’s not like Kane, Jonathan Toews, Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa, Ladd and others aren’t getting chances. Heck, the Blackhawks put up more than 40 shots Sunday. Two of the Chicago goals have come from the defense, the third was a dirty goal by Andrew Shaw and the fourth was a flubbed shot by Artem Anisimov that surprised Elliott with the way the puck came off the stick. Where are all the guys we’re used to seeing score?

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The Blues aren’t doing such an amazing job of closing off space or stopping the Blackhawks’ chances. The Blackhawks just aren’t following through on them, and it’s something we haven’t seen much of in recent postseasons.

Now, this post isn’t intended to be a doom and gloom outlook. These are all things the Blackhawks can correct, and I’m not even sure they need to perfect all of them to beat the Blues in this series. However, these are all things worth watching, as even if the Blackhawks get past the Blues (again, I think they ultimately will), these issues would cause a quick and embarrassing downfall further into the postseason.

The Blackhawks under Coach Q have often corrected their course mid-series after some unusual or poor play. This year is on the unusual side so far, but there’s no reason to believe the Blackhawks can’t do some things to correct it.

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