After two games in Anaheim that left everyone breathless, exhilarated, and exhausted, Game 3 was played at a crawl. Both teams looked sluggish after the mid-way point of the 1st period. “Blackhawks Postgame Live” on Comcast had a graphic last night which showed that the team who won a 3OT game dropped the following game like 9 out of the past 10 times. It was a natural let down game for the Hawks. The problem is that we’re in the Conference Finals and you can’t have a let down game. You have to dig a little deeper and do the things that you know lead to goals and success. Anaheim did a better job of that in Game 3.
“The mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it”–Plato–Chief
People are up in arms over Coach Q’s lineup last night. Saying that this was a “coach’s loss” and that he’s a moron for not having Vermette and Teravainen in there. I didn’t like the lineup last night either, but to put all the blame on Coach Q and just assume that the Hawks win the game with Teuvo and Vermette in there is a narrow view. Let’s break it down though.
–The 4th line of Desjardins-Kruger-Shaw has been fantastic in this series and arguably the team’s best line in Game 2. I would’ve like to see them stay together and that was before we found out that something was wrong with Kruger and he couldn’t take faceoffs. Shaw is more effective as a winger. He can get aggressive on the forecheck and he can get to the front of the net because he doesn’t have the same defensive responsibilities as a center. If that line is kept together, Shaw can take the bulk of draws for Kruger and still do all the winger stuff. Shaw wasn’t great on the draws last night, but he’s a better option than Desjardins. Breaking up the Desjardins-Kruger-Shaw group was my biggest problem with the lineup changes.
–After a 3OT game and a long flight home Coach Q said he wanted to insert some fresh legs into the lineup. Pretty sound logic. The first 10 minutes or so of the game was the usual breakneck speed we’ve been accustomed to seeing in this series. Then, it looked as if fatigue set in for both teams and the game slowed to an Eastern Conference level. Which is to be expected and why the logic behind inserting two speedy and fresh players into the lineup was a logical idea. It just didn’t have the desired effect. I thought both Versteeg and Nordstrom played fine in a vacuum. Nordstrom did get a little bit lost on the 2nd goal, but overall they were fine. You could argue that Coach Q just benched the wrong guys. They certainly could’ve used Vermette’s face-off ability last night because Toews was the only guy that had any success. Maybe you swap Versteeg for Bickell and kick Sharp up to the 2nd line with Richards and Kane…but then you’re removing the one guy who has done some thumping in this series.
So as I have said, I wouldn’t have changed the lineup following Game 2, but none of us are in that room. Coach Q is on his way to the Hall of Fame because of his ability to get a feel for his players. That’s what he does best. Maybe he sensed that Vermette was gassed and that Turbo was getting a bit worn down. Maybe the film showed both of those things. The fact that people are again calling for Coach Q’s head and putting all the blame on him is preposterous. He makes the lineup, yes, but he doesn’t play. He had even less ice time than Timonen. The guys have to get sandier. They have to be willing to go to the net.
Why The Blackhawks Lost
–They went 0-5 on the powerplay and only got one shot on net. That’s not going to cut it. They were out of sorts in every element of the powerplay. The entries were bad. They weren’t decisive with the puck when they had it in the zone. Nothing was crisp. If you’re not crispy with the puck against the Ducks, who are hyper aggressive on the PK, then you’re going to turn it over and struggle. That seem pass is there because the Ducks are aggressive, but the Hawks need to move it quicker and shoot it quicker. They have to be more direct. The PP worked in Game 2 because they got quick shots through and had net presence. Neither happened in Game 3.
–You can apply those same things to 5 on 5. The Blackhawks have to assert themselves and be willing to pay the price in hard areas. The Hawks lost too many small areas battles and didn’t get to the front of the net enough/at all.
–They didn’t capitalize on the few Grade-A chances they did get. Saad’s 2nd period shot from the slot that was gloved by Anderson. A couple shots off the post. Andersen making himself big on one of the few scrambles in front and coming up with a whistle.
–Overall, the guys on both teams just looked spent. The difference was that Anaheim did the little things better in Game 3. They went to the net harder, they won pucks on the wall, and they blocked a ton of shots. They were more diligent. This game was a war of attrition and Ducks dug a little deeper. The Hawks have to do a better job of getting ugly goals. They got one flash of brilliance from Kane. Those moments from Kane and other skilled guys need to be what separates them from Anaheim, not what makes the game close.
There was so much negativity on my twitter feed and in my mentions last night. That’s fine. That just means the Bandwagon has less weight to pull. This group has been down in playoff series plenty of times. They know how to win and they’ll get it done in Game 4. I’d like to see Vermette and Turbo back in there for Game 4 and really attack the Ducks with speed. Play simple, hard, fast, Blackhawk hockey.