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Stanley Cup Final Game 4 Recap: Best of Three For Lord Stanley

United Center Lightning pic

 

I am starting to think that the NHL Playoffs should come with a Surgeon General warning. Like “If you watch this game it’s more probable than not that you’ll have years shaved off your life”. Game 4 wasn’t pretty. For the first two periods the teams played a little slower pace than we’ve seen so far, the passing wasn’t crispy, and we didn’t see many scoring chances. Then Saad scores and…BANG. The game was going at 100mph and we’re holding on for dear life. Finger nails gone, nervous eating, heart palpitations, butt cramps, etc. The end of the game was ZERO fun as a fan, but the Hawks dug deep and made just enough plays to win the game. Again, the margin in this series is an eyelash.

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–Where my Corey Crawford h8ers at?  Coach Q called it a “goalie win” after the game and he was on the money. Crawford was sensational last night. A ton of huge stops. The first period save sliding across to stonewall Tyler Johnson set the tone for his entire night. He was squared up, in position, and focused all night. Rebound control was on point and his body language was good. Crawford made this win possible. The save on Stamkos in the slot may have saved the season.  Crawford never seems to get credit from the masses when he’s great, and he gets all the blame in when he lets in a few softies. Great bounce back game from Crow. A Championship performance. Crawford sucks?

–Jonathan Toews is on a path to being one of the 10 greatest players of all-time. He has been absolutely incredible this series. Every shift, every play, every inch of the ice. He is giving max effort and willing this team to victory. Yes, he potted the first goal by going hard to the net and burying a bouncing puck, but he also saved a potential goal that period by making a Selke play in the slot. Getting under Stamkos’s stick in the first period and quickly turning defense into offense. Toews is the best player in the world and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone in the league.

Hossa is 36 years old. Do people know that? Because you couldn’t tell by watching him skate. Usually at 36 hockey players have been working on their dad bods. Drinking some beers, playing some golf. Not Hossa. He’s a freak. Such a work horse. He and Toews are hockey soul mates. They’re both so strong, so good defensively, and they work tirelessly. It’s such a luxury to have you best offensive line also be your best defensive line and that’s what those guys bring to the table. It gives Coach Q so much freedom.

The 3rd guy on that line last night was Patrick Sharp. I was pretty hard on him in the last blog, but he came to play in Game 4. He fit in perfectly with Toews and Hossa. Challenged Tampa’s D with his speed, got the front of the net, played smart, played simple, and had some premium scoring chances. That was his best game of the playoffs and the type of performance the Blackhawks needed from him. If Sharp can play that well on the top line, it allows Coach Q to play Saad with other guys. It gives the whole lineup balance. Sharp was good defensively too. Winning battles along the wall and taking away time and space. That’s the Patrick Sharp we know and have been waiting to see.

PS: AWWWWWWW

–A lot was made of the line changes before the game and during the first period when things weren’t going well. I thought they were a little too jumbled as well, but the logic was sound. Coach Q is trying to get Kane going. He tried to put Kane with guys who could go get him the puck. Well Shaw and Saad are those type of guys. That’s the old “hustle and flow” line from last year. I wanted Shaw with Kane, but I wanted Shaw on a wing. It’s tougher to get in deep on the forecheck as a center when you have so much defensive responsibility. Coach Q eventually tweaked his lines a bit by putting Richards back at center with Saad and Kane and that had more success. There seemed to be a narrative, at least on twitter, that Q was just throwing shit at the wall. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There was sound logic behind the line combos.

–The other lineup change was Coach Q going back to Kimmo Timonen and benching Cumiskey. Kimmo only played 5:46, but he was solid out there. Really liked his game actually. He can’t skate that well anymore, but he’s getting by on guts and guile. Kimmo isn’t going to make the mental mistakes we saw Cumiskey make in Game 3. Would’ve been pretty special if that clapper in the 3rd off the post found it’s way in the net.

–Speaking of guts…Johnny Oduya. Something is clearly wrong with him. Some sort of hand or wrist injury. One hand, but two GIANT balls on Oduya. Even though he was dealing with an injury he still played nearly 26 minutes. Good enough for the 2nd highest total on the team.

–The top 4 defense continues to amaze. Duncan Keith hasn’t put up the points in the Final, but he’s been a dominant defensive player. Great wheels to break up seemingly every mini odd-man rush TB gets. They all had great gap control last night and active sticks. Seabrook’s stick saved the game last night.

Another example of winning or losing by an eyelash.

–A couple weeks ago I broke down how I thought the off-season would go for the Hawks. I predicted a 2-year bridge deal for Brandon Saad at $5M per season. With every game I think that becomes less and less likely. He’s been unbelievable. He is so fast and strong. The Hawks, as a team, took the puck to the net hard last night, but nobody does it as effectively as Saad. It’s incredible that he’s this good at 22 years old. He’s a star and only going to get better.

–I said on the WGN shoot around podcast that I think Tampa is the best team the Hawks have played during this run. Two great teams. It has to be a little like looking in the mirror for the Hawks. They’re fast, the play with great structure, they have great skill up front, and they have an all-world type defenseman. In the series preview blog I brought up how analysts back in 2009 said Hedman was “like a 6’6″ Nik Lidstrom”. That seems like incredible praise, but it’s honestly not that far off at this point. That’s how good Hedman has been.

–The Blackhawks need more offensively from Patrick Kane. I think his defense is under-appreciated and he did contribute a lot on that side of the puck last night, but he needs to be more dynamic offensively. He’s far too passive. When Kane is at his best he is such a cocky son of bitch with the puck on his stick. He’s like an AND1 mixtape guy. Hot sauce. Looking to break ankles. We haven’t seen that Patrick Kane in this series. It’s nothing but perimeter shots. One and done. He did help win the face-off that led to Saad’s game winner, but Kane needs that swagger back. He needs to make the Tampa Bay defense nervous. Get them moving, make them turn, and get himself in between the dots. He’s going to have a big moment in this series, but he’s running out of time.

 

It wasn’t fast or pretty, but the Hawks did what they had to do to claw their way back into this series. They can play a lot better, but that was the most disciplined and focused game they’ve played so far in this series. If that level of intensity and attention to detail is their baseline, the offensive punch will come. They can win ugly, they can win pretty, they can win fast, but it’s the structure that was missing at times. It’s best of 3 for the Stanley Cup, and there isn’t a team in the world that I would take over the Hawks in that scenario. Viva La Hawks.

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