Five ways Chicago can get back into its series
CHICAGO -- Add it up and the Chicago Blackhawks are exactly 1:51.4 away from having a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series against the St. Louis Blues.
"You're almost there," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
You know the saying about when "almost" counts, and it's not in horseshoes, hand grenades and hockey. "Almost" wasn't good enough for the Blackhawks to win either game at Scottrade Center. They gave up one-goal leads late in regulation in each game and wound up losing in overtime.
What do the Blackhawks have to do to get back in the series, to turn what they almost did in St. Louis into something they actually do in Chicago?
Here are five ways Chicago can get back in the series, starting with Game 3 at United Center on Monday night (8:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, RDSI, FS-MW, CSN-CH):
1. Figure out the power play
The Blackhawks scored a goal on their first power-play opportunity of the series. It came at 14:39 of the first period in Game 1.
Since that point their power play is 0-for-9 with seven shots on goal. It was particularly disjointed in Game 2, going 0-for-4 with three shots on goal and a mere eight shot attempts.
That's as big a problem as you think it is, especially considering Chicago's power play was 10th in the NHL during the regular season at 19.5 percent.
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said shot recognition and "earlier preparation" will help the Blackhawks generate more scoring chances on the power play. He noted that the Blues, who were second in the NHL on the penalty kill during the regular season (85.7 percent), do a good job of tightening the shooting lanes and going down to block shots -- but quicker, more decisive actions and puck movement on the blue line might negate St. Louis' PK system.
It won't get any easier; defenseman Brent Seabrook, who scored Chicago's only power-play goal of the series, is out for the next three games after being suspended by the NHL for his illegal hit on Blues captain David Backes in Game 2.
2. Stay in character
Too often through the first two games, the Blackhawks tried to match the Blues in the physical game, sacrificing their skill game to do it. That's not how Chicago is built to win, particularly against an abrasive team like the Blues.
No one is saying the Blackhawks should just take a hit without giving one, but they're at their best when using their physicality to rev up their skill game. That's how they got back into Game 2 midway through the second period, but they did the opposite in the first 30 minutes of the game and were down 2-0 and outshot 14-4.
"I thought when we started playing more physical in the second period we got more pucks, we won more battles and we had more puck possession," center Michal Handzus said. "We have to be physical, especially against a physical team like the Blues are, but we've gotta be careful not to take too many penalties."
3. Stay disciplined
Handzus offered the perfect segue by talking about avoiding penalties. He should have added "in key moments of the game," such as in the third period when they're trying to protect a one-goal lead.
"We've gotta be smarter," Quenneville said. "We've talked about that. Discipline is going to be key against these guys. They push you physically and you've gotta get engaged and be willing to compete in the hard areas, but we can't take undisciplined penalties."
The Blackhawks have taken four penalties, including Seabrook's charging major, while leading by a goal in the third period in the series. Before Seabrook gave the Blues a five-minute power play at 15:09 of the third period Saturday, defenseman Duncan Keith and forward Bryan Bickell were guilty of back-to-back minor infractions separated by 5:44.
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko eventually made Chicago pay with his game-tying goal in the waning seconds of regulation.
Chicago captain Jonathan Toews got his stick up on Blues center Vladimir Sobotka 3:07 into overtime, giving St. Louis another power play. The Blues didn't score on it, but they generated momentum and defenseman Barret Jackman won the game 43 seconds after Toews left the box.
4. Don't sit back, attack
The typically high-flying Blackhawks got conservative in the third period of Game 1. It was a big mistake.
They let the Blues have time and space in the offensive zone, and eventually forward Jaden Schwartz forced a turnover and found enough room to score the tying goal with 1:45 left in regulation.
If the Blackhawks get a lead in Game 3, they can't try to sit on it. That doesn't work in the NHL these days, not with the way teams check the puck back and crash the net. The Blues are one of the best teams in the League at checking the puck back and taking advantage of time and space.
"If you start playing too much defensively it gives the other team more room because you are not as aggressive and you don't forecheck as hard, so you stay back and it gives them more room to make a play," defenseman Michal Rozsival said. "Sometimes it's hard in the playoffs, in such a big game, not to fall into a defensive kind of mind. But we want to try to stay as consistent with our game as we can."
5. Discover a new threat
Seabrook is suspended for three games, meaning the Blackhawks won't have a player who plays in all situations, has averaged more than 30 minutes per game in the series and leads the team with four points.
Losing Seabrook is a major blow, but it gives someone else a chance to step up and prove his worth. Maybe it'll be Nick Leddy. Maybe it'll be Rozsival. Maybe it'll even be Sheldon Brookbank, who will likely replace Seabrook in the lineup for Game 3.
Leddy would appear to be the player who has the most potential to step up and become a bigger factor, particularly on the offensive end. He can skate with the puck and dive in and out of the offensive zone without risking too much the other way because of his ability to backtrack. Leddy won't give the Blackhawks the physical element that Seabrook offers, but he provides a skillset that could give the Blues fits.