Blackhawks’ Special Teams Force Series Split Against Red Wings

The Chicago Blackhawks‘ series against the Detroit Red Wings was huge. The Blackhawks find themselves out of the playoff picture, but have received a gift. After facing a brutal March schedule, their stretch in April has been lighter. With having an opponent like the Red Wings on the schedule, who are in last place in the Central Division, it gave them a chance to re-establish themselves. To come out of this series without any points would be unacceptable. Luckily, the Blackhawks forced a series’ split, with a 4-1 loss on April 15, followed by a 4-0 win on April 17. Ironically, they were able to do this because old foes ended up helping them. Here are the takeaways from the series.

Special Teams

When it comes to the special teams, one-half proved to be the difference-maker on the Blackhawks’ side. Their power play was atrocious in this series. Moreover, so was Detroit’s. This series made me wish that there was a way that both teams could decline the power play to spare our eyes from the nothingness that came out of it.

The Blackhawks had five power-play opportunities in two games with nothing to show for it. The Wings had seven power plays with nothing to show for it, either. The Blackhawks’ power play had went from being third-best in the league, to sixth-best in the league. I think most had hoped that facing a team like Detroit would be the perfect opportunity to find their groove again. The Red Wings are ranked 23rd in the league on the penalty kill, so that was disappointing not being able to convert. All season long, the power play has been the team’s best friend and the penalty kill has been their worst enemy. This series showed the opposite. While the power play struggled, their penalty kill, singlehandedly, saved the series.

Dominik Kubalik Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been bad this season. They are ranked 30th in the league and they have had a hard time finding consistency. The Red Wings’ power play ranks 30th, so again, this was a big opportunity for them to gain confidence.

The Red Wings only had one power-play opportunity during the first game. During the second game, they had six. Chicago’s discipline during the second game was non-existent, but their penalty kill bailed them out big time. There was a point in the game where the Red Wings had a 5-on-3 power play during the third period. Ian Mitchell was sent to the box for cross-checking and Alex DeBrincat was sent off for hooking. That could have been a game-changer for Detroit. Not going to lie – that scared the heck out of me, but they proved everyone wrong when they stopped them.

Spending most of the game in the penalty box is a recipe for disaster, but they made sure to keep the pressure on the Wings. It was the most aggressive I have seen the Hawks look on the penalty kill all year. I hope that it continues for the rest of the regular season.

Hometown Kids Shine

As far as players to watch in the series, most eyes were on DeBrincat. Besides the fact that he has had a wonderful season with 43 points in 41 games, he also loves facing Detroit. He scored a crucial goal in the second game that put the Blackhawks up 2-0 in the second period. With that, he now has 8 goals, 12 assists, and 20 points in 14 games against the Red Wings in his career.

You couldn’t ask for a better storyline because of the fact that he is from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Players facing their hometown teams always seem to add extra flair to their game. He was pretty invisible during the first game in the series, so it was expected that he was going to make some noise in the second game. He sure did.

Alex DeBrincat Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The hometown heroes didn’t just end with DeBrincat in this series. Vinnie Hinostroza also had a strong showing. Like DeBrincat, Hinostroza’s impact came in the second game of the series. He set up Patrick Kane for a beautiful goal with less than 20 seconds left in the first period to put the team up 1-0. He made a similar play in the third period, but connected with Wyatt Kalynuk for a goal, instead, to put the team up 3-0.

Finally, in the third period, he connected with Pius Suter for an empty-net goal that put the team up 4-0. He has been impressive since he was acquired from the Florida Panthers before the trade deadline. He now has five points in six games with the Blackhawks. As a Bartlett, Illinois native, he is definitely making his hometown proud!

Subban Shutout

Goaltender Kevin Lankinen started the first game of the series and had a rough night. Malcolm Subban started the second game with Collin Delia as his backup to give Lankinen a day of rest. Lankinen has carried most of the weight in net with eight straight starts. Subban last played on March 28 against the Nashville Predators. Before Detroit, he had lost his last three starts against the Predators, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Dallas Stars.

Because gaining two points from the Red Wings was so important, it was natural to feel uncertain about putting him in. However, he was fantastic. He had a shutout with stopping all 29 shots faced. Detroit put a lot of pressure on him, especially in the first period. He held strong all game. This was his second shutout of the season. The first one came against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 25. What made this even better was what head coach Jeremy Colliton had to say about him afterwards:

I know I’ve said it before, but you can’t really overstate what a great teammate he is. It was a big game for us. Multiple times this year, he’s stepped to the plate and done a great job and you just love to see him be rewarded. I was happy we were able to get the shutout for him.

Great to see Subban get rewarded, indeed, coach!

Final Thoughts

This series was an eyesore. Besides some of the aforementioned good highlights, there was a lot of bad hockey happening at both ends of the ice. But the Blackhawks have been a team where winning ugly has been their specialty all season. In this game, it doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to count. They avoided a sweep. You can’t ask for more in that scenario.

Now, they have concluded their series of games against the Red Wings having won six out of eight games. They now have 47 points on the season and are only two points behind Nashville for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division. With only 11 games left to play in the regular season, every point matters. They need to continue getting points in their upcoming three-game series against the Predators – that will decide their playoff fate.

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