Four Factors For Blackhawks Success in Game 4
The one good thing about the Cubs getting rained out in Pittsburgh, we had a chance to take in every minute of Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final in Philly (which included the Cubbies in the clubhouse).
Joel Quenneville's crew has a one-game lead in this series and they have yet to play a complete 60. Here are four things he and his staff will likely stress for Game 4:
The engine that drives the Blackhawks are the six defensemen. Their ability to limit zone-time and generate speed bringing the puck out are essential. Philly has come with a menacing forecheck. Keith, Seabrook, Campbell, et al. have to retrieve pucks quickly and the forwards have to come back to give those guys options. Do that, and you take the heart out of the Flyers game.
Get to the middle
This is not easy, considering the 6-foot 6-inch giant wielding an ax in front of Michael Leighton. But that is where goals are scored. Too often, during the Canadiens series you would see one shot and out came the puck. Or, you'd see one Montreal jersey and four Flyers gating the net. That's why Leighton registered three shutouts in the conference finals. The Blackhawks skill players have work the "inside" (as Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock used to tell me). As shaky as Leighton has looked, perimeter-play won't get it done.
Chris Pronger has been exceptionally effective for the Flyers in this series. Blackhawks Pro Scout Steve Smith (who pre-scouted the Flyers for the Final) told me on the air before Game 1 that everyone on the team needs to get a piece of him to wear him down. One guy finishing a check here or chipping him there won't be effective. He's the main pillar. If he falls, the Flyers fall.
Both teams have been subject to tangible emotional shifts. Can't happen if you want to hoist Lord Stanley's chalice. There can be no retaliation for cheap shots and no unwarranted penalties. The tougher player is the guy who can take a punch to the mug or a slash on the hands without looking for instant revenge. Moreover, when the Blackhawks score or allow one, those shifts right after have to be some of their best. At times, during the Final they've either tightened up or lost some of their defensive assignments.