Not a great performance by the Blackhawks in either of the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final vs Tampa Bay, but if winning the Cup was easy everyone would do it. The objective when starting a series on the road is to get a split…mission accomplished. With that said, the Blackhawks need to be much, much better going forward. As a team, they can get a little perimeter oriented, and we saw too much of that from the Hawks’ top 9 forwards. The Blackhawks played essentially perfect in Games 6 & 7 vs Anaheim, and we haven’t seen them approach that level yet. Hopefully this loss and returning to the United Center will give the Hawks the focus they need to win their 3rd Stanley Cup in six years.
–Major story last night was Ben Bishop leaving the game multiple times in the 3rd period. Jon Cooper wouldn’t comment on the situation last night, but Jason Garrison said he didn’t think Bishop had the shits. Bishop having to run to the bathroom is a good story for a cheap joke, but a closer look at it makes it seem as if he was favoring his left leg late in the 3rd period. Could be an equipment problem, cramp, or something more serious. If Bishop can’t go, it’s really not that big of a deal. Vasilevskiy is the truth. He was a first round pick a few years ago. He dominated in the World Juniors and the Lightning probably see him as their goalie of the future despite how good Bishop has been the past 2 years. Vasilevskiy will be known as a top goalie in the league within three years. He played well last night in relief and the Lightning will feel fine with him in net going forward if need be. I hope Bishop is ok, because I really don’t want to spell Vasilevskiy ever again.
–Last night was an example of why people will never be totally comfortable with Corey Crawford. He made some big saves, but he didn’t look comfortable in net at all. He wasn’t tracking the puck well. Crawford was fighting the puck all night. Then he got super leaky on the Tyler Johnson goal. He got leaning and didn’t seal off the post. Can’t have that type of performance in the Stanley Cup Final. Now, Crawford always seems to rebound after a bad game, and he had strung together three great games before last night, but he has to be better.
–EVERYONE was murdering Patrick Sharp for his performance last night. Was he good? No. Did the back to back penalties reverse the momentum and trajectory of the game? Yes. However, if you think Sharp should be benched for Bickell or Nordstrom then you are a complete moron. That 3rd line needs to be better than they were last night. They got hemmed in their own zone a lot. Possession numbers were the worst on the team. That line is supposed to give the Hawks an edge. They did in Game 1, they were invisible in Game 2. Hopefully home-ice, and therefore last change will allow Coach Q to give them some favorable matchups. Regardless of who they play against, the 10-80-86 line needs to control the things they can control. Winning races, being hard on the puck, and getting to the net. I expect them to bounce back in Game 3. Sharp did have a team high 5 hits. So he was trying to contribute in other ways, but he’s a leader on this team. They do need more from him going forward, but the reaction on social media was absurd. In the meantime, just block out the h8ers.
–Turbo wasn’t particularly good 5 on 5 last night, as I said above, but I’m glad he’s getting PP time. Great little read on the give and go to tie the game at 2.
–During the 2nd intermission last night I said that Coach Q should split up Toews and Kane. He did and went back to 20-19-81 as the top line and that seemed to be a little bit better. Part of the reason that putting 19 and 88 together worked against Anaheim is because the Ducks don’t have a true shut down defenseman. Kane was able to support Toews in a matchup against Kesler. Victor Hedman is soooo good. Great stick, great skater, he’s huge, he’s strong. He’s the type of defenseman you would create in a video game. Again, the Blackhawks will have last change in the next two games so maybe they can get Toews and Kane away from Hedman a little more, but I would keep them separated. Let Kane go to work on some of TB’s weaker d-men.
–Cedric Paquette is better than I gave him credit for. He competes hard and is pretty solid defensively. Nice little dangle on Saad for a goal too. He couldn’t be more French. That postgame interview with Pierre sounded exactly like the goalie in “Slap Shot”. I don’t want him to be interviewed again, because that means he’s doing something right, but I got a little laugh out of that interview.
–One big positive for the Hawks…they DOMINATED on the face-off dot. 35-19 advantage. If they can keep winning draws at that rate the Hawks should be able to carry the play more. It was actually shocking that they didn’t have better possession numbers considering how great they were on draws.
–Lineup changes for Game 3
1) Game 3 might be the spot for TVR. With every comment from Coach Q it sounds more likely that TVR will get a chance to play in this series. A home game where the Coaching Staff can protect him a little better as he gets his feet wet is probably the best way to go. Rundlad and Cumiskey continue to be a liability. They each played under 8 minutes again last night and weren’t particularly effective in their role. I was pretty critical of Cumiskey’s “turnover” that led to the Pacquette goal, but that was actually a pretty tough play. Can’t just cough it up though. Shoot that thing at Bishop’s face at 99MPH and take an icing. I would say TVR goes in for Cumiskey, but it’s a toss up between all three.
2) Not sure what Bickell’s health status is, but if he can play I would swap him back in for Versteeg. I loved Steeger’s play in Game 1, but the Hawks need a physical presence and a guy who will go to the net. Hopefully Bickell will do that.
This all comes down to how hard the Blackhawks want to compete. They are getting beat to loose pucks, they aren’t taking the middle the of the ice, and they aren’t going to the net consistently. I realize that Tampa is a good team. The Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Final for a reason. However, it’s also pretty obvious that they aren’t doing anything the Hawks can’t handle. The Blackhawks need to ratchet their play back up to where it was at the end of the Anaheim series, because when they play with that much attention to detail and that much intensity there’s no team in the world that can beat them. If they keep playing like this they’ll be facing elimination before they know what hit them wondering what went wrong. Game 3 tomorrow night, time for the Champs to let their nuts hang. Viva La Hawks