In a new era in the NHL where Player Safety has drawn the line on hard hits, players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are given even more space which has been deadly.
With just 8 games to go in the regular season, the Blackhawks have climbed the Central Division ladder and now have sole possession of 1st place. In the last 10 games, the Minnesota Wild, who have led the division all year, have gone 2-8-0 in the final stretch of the season giving even more confidence to the Blackhawks. With rookie forwards producing, a veteran blue line, two strong goaltenders, and a handful of blue chip players, the Blackhawks look ready for another deep playoff run in 2017.
But a question that I keep asking myself I why? I’m a firm believer that blue chip players win you big games, but what happens when you don’t have blue chip players? Teams like Minnesota and Columbus win games because of their playing style and hard work. But come playoff time where it’s triple overtime and you need someone to score a big goal, who’s it going to be?
The one way you beat a team that has more talent than you is to make it hard on them with physicality. Just last year the St. Louis Blues beat the Blackhawks by pushing them to 7 games in a 1st round bloodbath. The Hawks couldn’t touch the puck for longer than a few seconds before a Blues player plastered them into the boards. Time and space for guys like Kane and Toews is the recipe for disaster. It’s like giving Tom Brady more than 5 seconds in the pocket and he will absolutely carve you up.
Another reason to be more physical with the Blackhawks is that you won’t have to pay for it. The Blackhawks like many other teams in the league have moved on from the enforcer position and replaced it with skaters that will be more productive. Right now, Jordin Tootoo is the closest thing to an enforcer the Blackhawks have and he’s seeing less than 10 minutes a night if he’s even in the lineup.
Below are a couple videos of when Kane and Toews have been targeted and have led to injuries.
The first example is in 2014 when Brooks Orpik of the Pittsburgh Penguins laid out a huge hit on Jonathan Toews. Whether the hit was clean or not, none of the other Hawks came to Toews’ defense. The Blackhawks are not the kind of team to just drop the gloves with anybody but when the best player on your team and your captain gets hit like that, you need to answer.
The second example is in 2015 where Alex Petrovic of the Florida Panthers dangerously checked Kane from behind into the boards. Kane was out for two months and surprisingly made it back just in time for the 2015 playoffs. Again we see here that none of his teammates go after Petrovic in his defense.
It’s clear that the NHL wants to move away from the dirty hits and concussions which is great, but the game is still played with a physical nature that is allowed to a certain extent. Hockey players are known as the toughest athletes in sports which is why the Stanley Cup is said to be the hardest trophy to win.
Now I’m not saying that the Wild should go out and try to hurt one of the Blackhawks stars. I’m saying that teams like the Hawks will skate right through you unless you throw them off of their game and that’s exactly what St. Louis did. Jonathan Toews has probably fought a handful of times and most of them were against David Backes of the Blues. Patrick Kane scored just 1 goal last year in the playoffs against the Blues because they game planned around eliminating Kane. Because the Blackhawks are a puck possession team, but Blues kept the puck deep in their end so they were forced to play with less space than normal.
I absolutely love the Blackhawks chances this year in the playoffs because the Kings may not make it, the Blues have lost their identity, and the Predators aren’t the defensive wall they used to be. All of those teams gave the Blackhawks tons of trouble while the Hawks barely squeaked through playoff series with them in the past. I just worry that if there isn’t a consequence for going after our top players, then what’s stopping our opponents from doing so? We may find out come playoff time.