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Blackhawks Tue May 27 2014

Blackhawks Facing Elimination Against Kings

Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.png After a pretty solid Game 1 against a fatigued Los Angeles Kings team, the Hawks now face elimination down three games to one. As I said before, this is a far different Kings team than the Hawks faced in last year's Western Conference final, and it's showing on the ice.

Sure, claiming the Hawks are tired from a short offseason after winning the Stanley Cup, plus sending 10 Olympians to Sochi would make perfect sense, but there's more to it than that. All teams are tired at this point in the season, it's a matter of who has enough to dig down deep and come through with strong legs and a clear head.

OK, that last line sounded like something from a coach Taylor pep talk, but it's true. The Hawks are skating on the backs of their heels and are allowing the Kings to find clear shooting lanes in front of the net -- so much so, Corey Crawford looks like he's standing in front of a firing squad.

So how does Joel Quenneville fix this so that his team isn't cleaning out its lockers after any one of the next three games? The Hawks have faced elimination as recently as last year's Western Conference quarterfinals against the Detroit Red Wings, and found a way to come back and eventually win the Cup.

The Hawks found themselves in the same situation: down three games to one with two of the next three games at the United Center. And just like last year, ideally winning game four on the road would have given them back a home-ice advantage in the series, but instead they had to scratch and claw their way back to eventually win in seven.

That's going to have to be the case here again against the Kings: rattle off three in a row and win a Game 7 at home. And step one in this process is going to have to be quicker shot blocking in front of Crawford.

The Hawks faced an early deficit to the Kings Sunday night in Los Angeles, finding itself in a 3-0 hole after the first 20 minutes of action. Once again, it was bad penalties that led to this black hole, which eventually yielded a 5-2 loss.

Two of the first three goals of the game came on power plays -- the first, a Jake Muzzin wrister, coming off a Marian Hossa interference call; the third goal came off the second power play when Dustin Brown found a wide open net off a great pass from Justin Williams.

While the second goal of the game was at even strength, there was one thing in common with all three goals in that dismal first period: no one put a body on the Kings in front of the net. When Marian Gaborik scored the second goal of the game, Brent Seabrook watched him get position in front of the net after Duncan Keith turned over a pass along the board. Anze Kopitar intercepted the pass, made a great feed to Gaborik and the rest is history.

In looking back at that series with the Wings last year, in games two, three and four, the Hawks scored one, one and zero goals respectively while the Wings took advantage of every misstep, turnover and win at the dot that they could. It wasn't until the Hawks were able to contain the shooting lanes against the Wings that they were able to get ahead with a lead man and rush the net.

And it isn't a case of merely standing in front of the net so that Crawford isn't able to see anything coming his way. It's following the puck and blocking the lane closer to the blue line that will take away opportunities from the Kings and create more for the Hawks.

Just look at the blocked shot attempts from Game 4: the Hawks were only able to manage 12 total while the Kings got in front of 23 shots. It's clearly a matter of being able to setup better defensively in order to create better chances down the ice.

Again, the Hawks have been here before and have found a way to win simply on talent and being at the right place at the right time. They'll not only need to find that extra gear the next three games, but also to find a way to adjust and capitalize in their own zone. It looks bleak, but if there's a team that can do it, it's the Blackhawks.

 

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