Jim Neveau, Blackhawks Correspondent
After a convincing 5-2 victory over the Canucks on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks are going to be looking to put a stranglehold on this series when the teams contest Game 4 tonight at GM Place.
Dustin Byfuglien’s hat trick was a nice exclamation point on the proceedings, but the real story of the game was the stellar efforts of several areas of the Hawks’ game. The offense looked very efficient in the second and third periods, as the team’s puck movement frustrated the Canucks to no end and led to a lot of quality scoring chances.
The Hawks also crashed the net with great effectiveness in this game, which was a strategy that many felt would be key to their chances of advancing in the playoffs. Add that to the solid penalty killing and the discipline the team showed in not being baited into stupid penalties by the Canucks’ goon-ish tactics, and you had a recipe for success that the Hawks can proudly point to when they need a blue print on how to do things in the post-season.
Speaking strictly of tonight’s game, here are four things that the Hawks need to do in order to come back to Chicago with a 3-1 series lead, and an opportunity to wrap things up on Sunday night.
One: Strap On Those Seat Belts, Pilgrim: This is Going to Get Ugly
After a game that saw the Canucks out-hit Chicago 40-21 and assert themselves physically throughout the contest, Vancouver will undoubtedly come out of the dressing room looking to absolutely annihilate anyone wearing a white sweater on Friday night.
They will go into the contest looking to hit the Hawks hard for two reasons: one is that a physical style of hockey can throw off a puck possession game like Chicago likes to play, and the other is that they want to continue their tactic of trying to bait the Hawks into stupid penalties that will lead to Vancouver power plays.
If the Canucks are capable to doing these things and get the Hawks off their game early, then it will be a lot easier for players like Henrik and Daniel Sedin to shine, and if that ends up happening, the Hawks could be in for a long night.
Two: Keep Up the Success on the Power Play
Time and time again, NHL experts are quick to point out the importance of converting on power play opportunities during the postseason. If a team can take advantage of their opponent’s mistakes, then it is a huge boost in trying to win a series and advance.
Chicago provided a textbook example of just what this means on Wednesday night. Not only did they score a mere eight seconds into their first power play of the evening, they also capitalized on a brainless penalty by Alex Burrows to regain a two goal lead after Vancouver had pulled within one in the second period. Shortly after the Canucks had scored, Burrows took the ill-advised roughing penalty against Brian Campbell, and Byfuglien made the ‘Nucks pay shortly thereafter by ripping a wrist shot top shelf.
Those are the type of penalties that drive coaches crazy, and the type of power play successes that make them nod their heads in approval. If Chicago can continue to capitalize on their opportunities when Vancouver has a misstep, it will be a huge boost for their morale, and a shot to the Canucks’ egos.
Three: Discipline, Discipline, Discipline
Along with a lot of other teams in this year’s playoffs, the Blackhawks have had their fair share of foolish penalties, chief among them being too many men on the ice infractions.
Game 3 provided a sterling example of how stupid a penalty too many men can be, when Ben Eager waived a teammate onto the ice for a line change, but then elected to stay on and defend the puck, even when Dave Bolland hopped over the wall to relieve #55. Obviously the official called the penalty, and the Hawks were forced to kill off a penalty that by all accounts never should have happened.
It’s these kind of careless mistakes that can cost teams games, and even though the Hawks ended up winning that game, it still is something that they should avoid in future playoff contests.
Another thing to watch for in the discipline department is how the Hawks will react if Vancouver resorts to more goonery in this game. Chicago did a good job of avoiding costly penalties when confronted with the chicanery that the Canucks engaged in Wednesday night, and it will be critical to keep that level-headedness if it happens again tonight.
Four: Take Care of the Puck
This may technically be filed under the “discipline” category mentioned previously, but puck possession is such an integral part of their game that it needs to be stated separately.
The second and third periods of Game 3 were good examples of how the Hawks are capable of playing when they are being smart with their puck possession. The entirety of Game 1, the first five minutes of Game 2, and the first period of Game 3 were all good examples of what can happen when the team is being careless with the puck.
Needless to say, the Hawks will need to look for more of the former rather than the latter if they want to have success in Game 4. They are a team driven by good passing and quality shots, and they cannot do that if they continually give the puck away in the defensive zone like they have done at several times in this series.