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Blackhawks Mon Apr 20 2009

Five thoughts on Hawks-Flames

A few talking points in the hours before Game 3 of the Blackhawks quarterfinal series in Calgary tonight after two come-from-behind victories at the United Center behind raucous crowds. How does the team respond to the hostile atmosphere of the Saddledome?

One: Getting on the board early
Despite slow starts in the first two games, the Hawks were able to mount successful comebacks as they settled down. Whether it was nerves, the physical nature or just bad play, the team can ill afford to get down early now that the series shifts to Calgary.

Two: The Bulin Wall

Although the Blackhawks are up 2-0 in the series, there's little doubt the results would be vastly different without Nicolai Khabibulin in net. Khabi's made some spectacular saves at key moments, and though the Flames have taken early leads in both games, the damage would have been much worse without Khabibulin in net. Chicago signed Khabi after he backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004; after a tumultuous tenure in the Windy City, can he strike twice?

Three: Kane's postseason struggles
The first two games have not been kind to Patrick Kane. While he hasn't played horribly in his first playoff atmosphere, the small-statured winger has been targeted by the Flames and the recipient of many hard hits. The lack of open ice is a hindrance to Kane's game, as he doesn't have the body to grind the puck out of corners and has limited his effectiveness.
Word out of Calgary is Kane is going to miss tonight's game due to the flu, though it's possible he's feeling the effects of the extra attention paid him by Calgary.
Meanwhile, Kane's partner in crime, Jonathon Toews, has been nothing short of amazing in the first two games. While his two goals were the difference in Game 2, his work in the face-off circles and two-way play have lifted the Hawks in both games. The 20-year-old, who is the third-youngest captain in NHL history, has shown exemplary leadership skills and proven the Hawks brass right in giving him the 'C' at such a young age.

Four: Power-play prowess
Special-teams are usually the dealbreaker in the postseason. Succeed on the powerplay while having a proven penalty kill, and chances of victory go greatly up. However, that hasn't been the pattern in the first two games. Both teams power plays struggled at the end of the season (Chicago going 2-for-36 in their last 10 games, Calgary an even worse 0-for-46 in their past 11). While both teams managed to notch a power play goal in Game 2, the team that can continue to capitalize with the man advantage will have the fast track to the next round of the postseason.

Five: Small moves pay big dividends
Two unheralded moves GM Dale Tallon made the past two seasons are proving pretty popular these days. When Tallon shipped out fan favorites Tuomo Ruutu and James Wisniewski at the trade deadline for Andrew Ladd and Samuel Pahlsson, respectively, many fans were in an uproar. But the two players with Cup experience have proven their worth this postseason. Ladd's screen of Calgary goalie Mikka Kipprusoff was key to Martin Havlat's OT game winner, and Pahlsson's play has helped shutdown Flames star Jarome Iginla in Game 1. Though Iginla had two points in Game 2, the matchup of the two in the next two games will be a key to the Hawks advancing in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years.

 
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