In round one, the Chicago Blackhawks were able to sneak in a knockout punch, defeating the Boston Bruins in triple in overtime. In overtime of the second bout between the two teams, the Bruins effectively countered in overtime, and now prepare to head back to Boston with the series tied at 1-1.
The Blackhawks dominated the entire first period of last night's game, but got increasingly out-played by the Bruins as the game continued. Eddie Olczyk, in an interview this morning on WSCR-AM, said it looked to him as though the Blackhawks lost their legs as the game wore on, perhaps from stretching themselves thin during that first period onslaught.
Had the Hawks found a way to pot a second goal during that first period, things may have gone differently. As it was, Boston goalie Tuukka Rask was able to answer the door, allowing his team time to tie the game up, and eventually win it off of a Brandon Bollig turnover in overtime.
With such a brilliant first period, the question is how can the Hawks sustain that type of pressure throughout the game, or at least have an alternative plan of attack for when Boston adjusts? Although it is always wise to trust in the 'stache, and not question the tactics of coach Joel Quenneville, there are three key adjustments that the Blackhawks need to make to find more consistent success against the stout Bruins defense.
1. Shoot the puck
This should be simple, and at times the Blackhawks make it look easy. In the first period of game two, the Blackhawks out-shot the Bruins 19-4. The rest of the game, Chicago was out-shot by Boston 24-15. Some of the forwards looked as though they were attempting to avoid hits, others simply mishandled the puck, or waited too long to shoot. The point is that the Blackhawks made the Bruins look lost and incapable in the first period. When they adjusted, the Hawks lost momentum and, in turn, the game.
Instead of always looking for the perfect pass, the Blackhawks need to do what they did during the first period, and keep consistent pressure on Rask and the Boston defense. This means shooting. Lots of shots at the net. Keep traffic in front of the net. The shot does not have to be a wide-open look, but keep pucks flying towards Rask. The game-winner in triple overtime was a direct result of this, and the Blackhawks had consistent pressure, as well as a goal, early last night because of a similar approach.
If Boston is pressuring particularly well, and blocking an obscene amount of shots as they have thus far in the series, than the Blackhawks need to adjust to that, which is the second key heading into game three.
2. Dump the puck
The Blackhawks offense sputtered in game one after Boston started racking-up hits, and taking away the space in the neutral zone as the Hawks attempted to attack. Too often the Blackhawks were not willing to get the puck deep and battle to take it back. When they did execute this, it often developed into one the few quality chances they had in the game after the first period.
Boston is big, and is going to be physical in the corners battling for the puck, but this is the Stanley Cup Final. This is going to be hard, and if the Bruins are shutting down the passing lanes, and taking away entry lanes in the neutral zone, the Blackhawks need to be willing to dump and chase, and create their own scoring chances out of that effort.
3. Play your game
Admittedly, this phrase is a bit cliche, but there is some truth to it. The Blackhawks need to keep their skates moving. That is how their speed and offensive skill can be utilized, even over Boston. We saw this in the first period last night. The Bruins had no answer for the Blackhawks in the first twenty minutes, before adjusting.
If the Hawks keep their skates moving, even when Boston is clogging the lanes, the speed and puck-possession game will expose the Bruins. When the Chicago offense is practically standing still at the blue line, waiting for either a dump or a pass, the forwards need to keep moving, drawing motion from the Bruin defense. Sometimes the Hawks execute this by cycling the puck, but that is only effective once already in the offensive zone. Continuing to stay in motion before the blue line can cause new lanes to open-up, or draw a defender off of his assignment.
Patrick Sharp commented on this topic last night, through Tracey Myers at Comcast Sports Net: "We stopped playing the attack game, and that's the way we're successful is using our speed and attacking."
There are multiple ways for the Blackhawks to achieve this, and they have shown the ability to do them all successfully at different times. When the Boston Bruins adjusted during the first intermission last night, the Blackhawks never really had a counter to answer.
One popular topic has been starting Viktor Stalberg in place of Brandon Bollig. Although Bollig's turnover did lead to Boston's game-winning goal, he has not played poorly, and that line has been very good as a whole. However, putting in Stalberg certainly would add speed to the Hawks attack. I would like to think Stalberg would be eager to prove he should be playing, and could come through with a nice effort.
To be fair, Stalberg's defense is always suspect, and he appear to be in coach Quenneville's doghouse right now. This is a wise place to simply defer to the 'stache, but one must wonder what impact, if any, Stalberg would have on game three.
While they were not exactly dominated by the Bruins, the team that performed so well in the first period of game two appeared to have vacated the premises later in the game.
Of course, the Blackhawks could also use some sort of production out of their dreaded powerplay, but at this point it looks like a foregone conclusion that there will be no dramatic improvement in that department.
If the Blackhawks can keep their skates moving, especially in the neutral zone, and utilize the dump-and-chase as Boston is clogging the passing lanes, the team should be able to generate plenty of scoring chances. Capitalizing on those chances by shooting the puck as an instinct, and passing only when that clearly leads to a better chance, will be key.
The Blackhawks will need to be willing to battle with Boston if they hope to win this series. They have shown the ability to have answer everything Boston does, but have not yet been able to adjust to them on the fly, or put it together for more than a period.
Once again, both teams look prepared to take this series to seven games, but things can change very quickly. I expect to see a better, thorough effort from the Blackhawks tomorrow evening in game three. Their success will depend on it.