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Blackhawks Fri May 09 2014
After the Minnesota Wild cut the Blackhawks' series lead in half with a 4-0 win in the Xcel Energy Center, Joel Quenneville and company no doubt went to the tape to breakdown exactly what went wrong. It was inevitable the Hawks were going to lose at least one game to the Wild in this second round of the playoffs, but how did the team go from scoring five and four goals in games one and two respectively -- both games with 22 shots on goal -- to scoring none after taking 19 shots on goal in Game 3?
It's something the Hawks knew was coming after watching coach Mike Yeo's team pick apart the Colorado Avalanche in the first round, and that's the Wild's ability to control the puck and limit shot attempts for its opponent. And while the Hawks still have to be feeling confident despite the loss, it's something they're going to need to adjust to unless they want another scare.
If there's one thing that separates the Hawks from most other teams in the league, it's the ability to adjust successfully on either offense or defense after making mistakes. Mind you, all teams make adjustments; in fact, every team has made adjustments against the Hawks, mostly by way of mimicking the team's game plan.
But what puts them in the upper echelon is recognizing what is being thrown at them and then counteracting it either by switching up lines or coming back to play their own style on the ice.
Take, for instance, around this time last year: the Hawks were down 3-1 against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. After such a great start to the shortened season and overall dominance of play, the Hawks were a few bad bounces away from packing it up and heading home for the season.
Enter Game 5 of that series. The Hawks charged back after connecting on a few power plays, which was the team's Achilles' heel throughout. The team was able to better spread the puck around on the man advantage, and thus capitalized by winning the game 4-1. Not to mention, Quenneville began mixing up the lines, including the pairing of Bryan Bickell on the top line with Jonathan Toews to counter-balance the Red Wings' defensive pairing.
The same thing applied against the Blues in the first round this year, but this adjustment was more on the physical and mental side as opposed to tactical. The Blues drew the ire of the Blackhawks with their physical play and overall agitation. It was like watching Luke Skywalker battle Darth Vader, all while the evil Emperor Palpatine encourages him to let his hatred flow through from within. It wasn't Luke's game, nor was it the Hawks', and eventually cooler heads prevailed after being down early.
The only question now is what will Quenneville do to spark more shots on goal in Game 4 Friday night. According to CSN's Tracey Myers, the Hawks practiced with the following lines yesterday afternoon:
Line 1: Bickell-Toews-Smith
Line 2: Saad-Kruger-Kane
Line 3: Sharp-Handzus-Hossa
Line 4: Bollig-Nordstrom-Morin
That's some evenly spread offense, but certainly questionable in terms of pulling Smith off of second-line centering duties. Either way, it's an adjustment that'll be interesting to see how the Hawks respond in crashing the net. (It also should be noted that Nick Leddy will be back on the ice for the Hawks after getting put in Quenneville's doghouse during Game 3.)
If the Wild manage to tie the series up, the Hawks will head home for Game 5 Sunday evening with a few questions in mind and a few other adjustments to consider. However, if they're able to at least get 25 shots on goalie Ilya Bryzgalov with Q's latest adjustment, they should be able to go up 3-1 and have a chance to close it out at the United Center.