Game Four Preview: 5 Keys to Success for Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in a 2-1 hole after Thursday night’s loss at home.  With Game 5 looming in Anaheim, the Blackhawks are close to being in a must-win situation.  In the first three games, Chicago has been out-hit 150-106 and has scored only five goals.  There are some serious problems everywhere on the ice.  In desperate need to make some adjustments, Chicago will need to find the right remedy to make the Stanley Cup Final.  Here’s a look at some of the changes that could be made for the ‘Hawks.

1. Fix the Power Play

Other than two quick power play goals at the beginning of Game 2, the Blackhawks power play unit has been bad.  Specifically, they were 0-5 in Game 3, which included a four-minute minor when the ‘Hawks were only able to muster up a few chances.  In order to get back in this series, the Blackhawks will have to start capitalizing on special teams.

Besides changing up personnel, they will be looking to key in on a few aspects of the power play. When asked about the power play, Brandon Saad mentioned, “Entries, with the game before, whether it was starting off a face-off or winning a big draw and starting in zone, (it) gives us a chance to set up and make plays at the net. We were wasting too much time on our entries and turning pucks over, not getting that extra effort to get the puck in. That hurt the power play a lot.” If the Blackhawks can get better zone-entries, they might be able to turn the power play around.

2. Pressure Andersen

Frederik Anderson has been spectacular throughout the playoffs, and just as solid in this series.  The Blackhawks made easy work against two of the Vezina Trophy finalists (Pekka Rinne & Devan Dubnyk) in rounds one and two, but have been often times stumped by Andersen.

The 25-year-old Denmark-native has made 112 saves on 117 shots in the series.  If they want to break his rhythm, it would be best to develop a net-front presence.  This is something that the Ducks have done to Corey Crawford, and it has made a huge difference.  In an interview after the game, Crawford stated, “I got bumped. I got bumped the whole game. It wasn’t enough to get called, but it was enough on that one (to be) a little distraction. I’ve got to find a way to not get caught up, I guess.”  If the Blackhawks can cause the same frustration to Andersen that the Ducks have been dishing out to Crawford, it will definitely benefit the team.

3. Reunite the “Hustle & Flow” Line

The most productive line in the playoffs last season was that of Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, and Patrick Kane.  They three together were given the “Hustle & Flow” line and were quite succesful for the Blackhawks.  Historically, Saad has better numbers when he plays with Toews, but the productivity cannot be ignored.  If the Blackhawks are looking for something to spark the offense, bringing these three together might do the trick.  Andrew Shaw’s inconsistency led to him starting the playoffs as a fourth line winger, but he was recently promoted to center the third line in Game 3.  He’s provided an extra spark on a team that has been uncharacteristically dull throughout this series.

4. Get Patrick Sharp Going

In recent years, one of the best scorers on this potent offense has been Patrick Sharp.  For a team starved of goal scoring, Patrick Sharp could be the answer.  Sharp has scored four goals in the postseason so far, but has yet to score in the series against Anaheim.

(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
(Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

One way to get him going could be to place him on the top line.  If Sharp is placed with Hossa and Toews, he could get the necessary scoring opportunities to spark this offense.  Toews and Hossa are excellent possession players, and could get him the looks he needs to find the back of the net.

5. Divide Up Defensive Minutes

In one of the more documented problems for the Blackhawks, the top four defensemen have been logging heavy minutes.  In Game 3, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook played almost 30 minutes each.  Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya have been counted on just as much.  Coach Quenneville doesn’t seem to concerned with his top two pairings playing as much as they are, but I am skeptical.  On Friday, they may have gotten some good news.

Trevor van Riemsdyk started the year on the Blackhawks roster and logged some impressive minutes in his rookie campaign, but it was cut short by a knee and wrist injury.  The rookie hasn’t played since his April 7 surgery, but skated with some of the team on Friday.  It’s doubtful that van Riemsdyk plays on Saturday, but Quenneville would not rule out his availability for games later in the serires.  For now, the Blackhawks need to put more trust in Kyle Cumiskey.  Cumiskey was inserted into the lineup in Game 2, and has looked a bit timid at times.  However, he has shown the ability to log some big minutes when he played eight minutes in the overtime period of Game 2.  If the Blackhawks can take away some of the strain away from their top four, the benefits could be seen quickly.

Game 4 with be vital for the Blackhawks at the United Center.  If they will to get a win, they’ll head back to Anaheim down 3-1, which would spell all sorts of trouble for Chicago.  However, if they can make the necessary adjustments, they could head out to California with the series tied and a best-of-three series for a chance to play for a Stanley Cup.