Blackhawks' chances depend on these five players
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins are each two wins shy of having another summer with Stanley.
For the Blackhawks to start setting up their party dates, they have to play with the speed they had Wednesday in their series-tying, 6-5 overtime win in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. But the Blackhawks also need to tighten up in the defensive zone and get better play from goaltender Corey Crawford.
Chicago is comfortable in an up-and-down game, but the Blackhawks would prefer to avoid another first-to-six-goals type of night.
If Chicago is going to find that happy medium, here are the five players who have to step up to win the Cup, starting with Game 5 Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS):
He has been catching grief because he couldn't catch the puck in Game 4. His glove side, which has yielded 10 of Boston's 12 goals in the series, has turned into a big enough sideshow that during practice Friday reporters were watching to see if Crawford's teammates would test it.
"I tried today and he stopped me glove side, so hopefully he's got it all figured out," left wing Patrick Sharp said.
Crawford even joked about all the noise he's hearing.
"Last series they were talking about my blocker," he said. "Both sides are bad, I guess."
The humorous self-bashing aside, obviously the Blackhawks wouldn't be two wins away from winning the Stanley Cup without Crawford's impressive play through the playoffs. However, it is going to be fascinating to watch where the Bruins try to beat Crawford in Game 5, and if all the talk about his glove has any effect on how he plays.
"As a goalie you never want to be thinking out there, you just want to read and react," Crawford said. "They made some good shots. I've just got to get over it and be prepared."
The defenseman has had a strong postseason, but had some head-scratching moments early in Game 4.
For example, he tripped Chris Kelly as the Bruins were transitioning from offense to defense 12:45 into the first period. Keith typically doesn't get beat down the ice, but he did this time, tried to hold up Kelly and got called for it. Boston's Rich Peverley scored a power-play goal two seconds before Keith was scheduled to be released from the penalty box.
Later in the first period, with the Blackhawks on the power play, Keith turned over the puck to Peverley at the offensive blue line and again lost a race down the ice. Peverley got to the puck behind the Blackhawks net, and Keith brought him down for another tripping minor.
Though this may be nitpicking, and as a result unfair criticism of someone who plays the most minutes on the team, it's notable because of how important Keith is to the Blackhawks. He needs to be the most reliable player on the ice because much of what they want to do starts with what Keith can do on the back end.
His mobility and decision-making with the puck kick-starts the Blackhawks' speed game and gets them into attack mode, which in turn allows them to break down the layers in the Bruins' structured defense. If Keith is in the penalty box, turning over the puck, losing races -- or all three -- the Blackhawks can't play the way want to.
"Generally I like to give and go. I don't like to hang on to it too long," Keith said. "I'm a big believer in moving the puck as quick as you can, let the puck do the work and let them react to how quick we can move the puck. Obviously we can skate fast, but the quicker you can move the puck and let the puck do the work, that's what it's about."
Confidence in his ability to score is no longer a concern for Toews. That's how big one goal is for a player who is used to scoring a lot.
"It makes a world of difference for you when you finally see one go in," Toews said after breaking a 10-game goal-scoring drought in Game 4.
The Blackhawks were OK without Toews scoring, but if they're going to win two of the next three games he has to be involved the way he was in Game 4, when he got inside the Bruins defense and led the charge to the front of the net. Chicago simply could not break down Boston enough to get to the net in Game 3 or over the last 50-plus minutes of Game 2, but Toews found a way in Game 4 and started a trend.
Toews can't sacrifice in other areas, be it on faceoffs or in the defensive end, for the sake of trying to score again.
"I know he hasn't scored a lot, but the guy he's playing out against game in, game out, Johnny has been basically at least even with him or ahead of the game," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We measure scoring chances at the end of the every game, and over the course of the season, regular season and playoffs, Johnny always finds a way to be on the right side of that."
He was the Game 1 hero, the talk of the NHL, but Shaw has been quiet since scoring the triple-OT winner off his leg to give Chicago a 1-0 lead in the series. He's had no points and five shots on goal over the past three games and played a personal series-low 12:40 in Game 4.
Shaw is centering a third line that has not been productive. He knows he, Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg can have a bigger impact on the score sheet because of their speed, but he admitted his focus is more on defending than scoring.
"I need to finish all my checks on the forecheck and always play a strong defensive game, shut down the line I'm playing against at that point in the game," Shaw said. "Our offense has been great and it'd be nice to chip in there, but we're really focusing on not getting scored on."
The Blackhawks aren't a team that wants to try to get by without something from all four lines. The way for Shaw to lead his line is to always be attacking the way Chicago's top two lines do.
"We've got to push just as hard as they do, if anything we've got to push harder," Shaw said. "We're a line with speed so we have to get it wide, drive their D and force them to turn, then you can make plays and get the pucks to the net, create offense that way."
Bickell's job description is simple, but his challenge is quite intimidating: He has to battle with Zdeno Chara to free up space for linemates Toews and Kane.
That is Bickell's role now, and if he plays it well he knows the Blackhawks will have more chances to score. He did a good job with it in Game 4 and ended up with an assist on the goals by Kane and Toews. Chara was on the ice for five goals against.
"Not a lot of guys challenge him to hit him, so they just kind of fade off or start backchecking," Bickell said. "You just hit him. Hits can happen. I don't think anybody likes getting hit. We just need to finish our checks against him."
Bickell can't back off now because even if the Blackhawks can win the speed game against the Bruins and get the puck into the offensive zone, they're not going to do much with it if they don't get to the front of the net to make things tough on goaltender Tuukka Rask.