Editor’s note: Shoro penned this. WordPress is acting up. Adam is catatonic right now and in no position to write.
“The series is just getting started really,” said Patrick Sharp handsomely.
After a whirlwind weekend of back-to-back games at United Center thanks to what’s left of the Rolling Stones being in town, the Chicago Blackhawks somehow found themselves with a 2-0 series lead over the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals. In a fitting tribute to the Stones, FORT KICKASS was rocking both nights as Chicago flat-out dominated in game one and overcame a strong LA effort in game two. The series now heads west to the left coast where the Hawks will look to unhinge the Kings at Staples Center where they’ve been nails. More specifically, LA has won their last 14 games at home, stretching back to the regular season. This series is far from over by any and all stretches of the imagination, but the two wins certainly helped. Let’s delve into what brought us to where we are now and share what we’ve learned.
SIZE DOESN’T MATTER: Well, it hasn’t so far, anyway.
Much ado was made about how big Los Angeles was up front and how their size would be too much for Chicago’s smaller defensemen to handle (#hockeyporn). That’s proven to be mostly untrue, up to this point. For the most part, the Hawks have done a good job of avoiding being swallowed alive when playing along the boards where LA’s size really becomes a factor. As soon as a Hawks defenseman receives a puck along the boards they’ve found a quick, short little outlet pass to either the other defenseman supporting the play or a forward. This has offset the Kings ability to work the men in red over along the half-boards and get the puck out in front of the net which is a bad thing. This was especially true in game one. They had a little bit more trouble the second go-round, especially behind the goal line (goal 2 for example), but still found ways to combat the Kings’ big boys.
THE KINGS CAN’T SCOAR: The Kings were directly responsible for 3 goals in 2 games, which ain’t gonna cut it. Especially when one of those goals went into your own net.
In game one, the Blackhawks just flat-out dominated the puck possession game while limiting the Kings to a measly 22 shots. The one goal they scored was all thanks to Dave Bolland, which was kinda neat because a lot of the time you forget he’s there nowadays. Kopitar / Brown / Richards / Carter were held to a combined 4 shots, which is not a good number if you weren’t aware. Hell, even their
third second goal was a garbage time goal scored when the Hawks clearly didn’t give a shit. You’ve got to wonder if Kopitar and Brown are hurt. Kopitar is WAY too skilled a player to only have 7 points in 15 games and Brown is WAY too much of a douchenozzle to not be a factor in this series.
HAWKS ARE FAST: Ok, well, we already knew that.
But the speed of the Hawks forwards along with the newfound space compared to last round against Detroit and the improved breakouts have proved to be quite the challenge for some of the Kings defensemen. As previously mentioned, the Hawks have been using short little outlet passes to get the puck out to the forwards. Once they have the puck, they’ve taken advantage of this extra space and skated behind the slower stay-at-home defensemen on the Kings like Greene and Regehr and got the puck on goal (goal 1 on Saturday, goals 2/4 on Sunday).
QUICK IS NOT INVINCIBLE: The Kings goalie was essentially the only reason the Chicago never blew game one open. He faced 36 shots and stopped 34 of them. So, yeah, he was good. But Sunday proves he’s not an impenetrable steel wall. Can you expect him to let in 4 goals on 17 shots every night? Absolutely not. The guy has still played lights out this postseason and we can expect him to put on a show at home, but now we have tangible evidence he’s not impossible to beat.
COREY CRAWFORD IS UNSPECTACULARLY SPECTACULAR: I oversaw a conversation between three absolute must-follows in @jrlind, @andrewcieslak, and @jessespector on my twitter feed Sunday night that I couldn’t agree more with.
It centered on just how well Corey Crawford has played this postseason and how unimpressively he’s done it. He’s been nothing short of terrific throughout the regular season and the playoffs yet he doesn’t seem to get any recognition for it (other than this great piece by Spector). He leads all playoff goaltenders in GAA at 1.67 and has a .938 save percentage, second only to Quick by a .002 margin. His .975 save percentage while shorthanded leads all playoff goalies and it’s not even close.
Corey doesn’t have to make the unbelievably acrobatic saves every goalie wants to put on his personal highlight reel. He just goes about his business, which is stopping shots. I think his more mundane style of goaltending works against him in terms of gaining some recognition. But in the end, it’s keeping the puck out of the net that matters. And Corey has done just that.
Also, let’s take a second to talk about just how amazing it is that Crawford stuck up for Toews when noted turd Kyle Clifford was being himself. And then he wanted to fight Bernier which is even better. That makes it two times in the past two postseasons that Crawford almost fought the opposing goalie, the other being against [Oscar-nominee] Mike Smith.
So now you want to go into enemy territory and win a couple games, huh? Wouldn’t that be neat? Well it would be but it also won’t be easy, especially when the home team has outscored their opponents 18-8 and they haven’t lost there once yet. It’d be cool as heck if the Hawks could take two in LA but realistically, coming back home with one would be a coupe. In order to keep the Kings from tying this series up, the Hawks should do these things.
BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES: You just know that the Kings are going to come out guns-a-blazin’ in game 3.
Desperation will be the name of the game for the men in black and silver. They’ve already come back from a 2-0 series hole against the Blues once and they’re perfectly capable of doing it again. They know their season depends on winning game 3 and their play will reflect that. But the Blackhawks are not the Blues (which is awesome, IMO). If they can survive the initial 20 minute onslaught they’re sure to face, the Hawks may have a chance to suck the energy right out of the crowd and get back to their skill-oriented game that’s worked against the Kings so far.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX: Looking at you, Andrew Shaw.
This obviously goes for the whole team but this is extremely important for Shaw. The Kings have struggled on the power play, scoring about 5.4 goals/60 on the man-advantage, and the Blackhawks have excelled on the penalty kill, killing 45/47 throughout the playoffs. But why test the PK with needless penalties?
Shaw is a very poor man’s Dustin Brown; when he’s not being a dummy and a PITA, there is some legitimate hockey ability there. But again, he needs to avoid taxing the PK and giving the struggling Kings offense any glimmer of hope.
MOAR SCOAR: ….from Kane and Toews that is.
Kane has 10 points in 14 postseason games so it’s kind of hard to complain about a lack of production from him, but he’s only dented the net twice and Kane has deservedly greater expectations than other players. With that said, he’s been moving the puck well and using the space he’s been getting this series and looks to be primed for a patented Kaner “fuck you” mode game out in LaLaLand.
Toews has played somewhat better since his abysmal game 4 against Detroit. However, the captain still needs to improve his play on both ends of the ice, including elevating his point total of 7 points in 14 games. It won’t be an easy task because you can’t expect Quick to play like he did in game 2 on a regular basis. However, you do expect your star players to live up to their designation as stars.
WATCH OUT BELOW: The Kings excel at creating offensive opportunities below the goal line. We saw a bit of that in game 2, as previously mentioned. Expect to see a lot of more of that these next couple of games. The Hawks will need to avoid blindly throwing the puck around the boards and behind the goal because the Kings will probably beat them off the puck and throw it to the forward parked right in front of Crawford which is the opposite of good.
Let’s remember, kids. A 2-0 series lead is great but nobody wins a marathon by running 13.1 miles. These next few games are going to be quite the ride so strap-in and hold on tight because this series is just getting started. Go Hawks.