Five ways Blackhawks can extend series vs. Kings
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks will have history and confidence on their side when they try to win three games on the run to escape a mess that has them on the verge of losing the Western Conference Final and forfeiting the opportunity to defend the Stanley Cup they won last June.
They begin the quest in Game 5 on Wednesday against the Los Angeles Kings at United Center (8 p.m.; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
The confidence comes from that championship run and all the hurdles that had to be cleared to party with the Cup for the second time since 2010. In fact, much of Chicago's core group this time around was on the ice in Philadelphia with the Cup four years ago and at TD Garden last June when two goals in 17 seconds turned a potential Game 7 into a victory celebration.
They know how to win and know what it takes. They also know they have not delivered that effort since Game 1 of this series.
The history also comes from last year's championship run, which almost wasn't after a second-round scare from the Detroit Red Wings. The underdog Red Wings lost Game 1 convincingly then won three straight to put the Blackhawks on the brink of elimination.
This year's Western Conference Final has followed the exact same path. Chicago, as the favorite, was the dominant team in Game 1 but has been second-best for the past three, outscored 15-7 during the losing streak.
But the Blackhawks found a way to survive, eventually winning the series against the Red Wings in overtime of Game 7. Now they must follow that treacherous path again if they want to continue to entertain hopes of being back-to-back champions.
They know the task will be even more difficult. These Kings are better than last year's Red Wings and they are playing at a higher level than the Kings team that lost to the Blackhawks in five games in last year's Western Conference Final. Los Angeles has already claimed bragging rights against the favored San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks.
But the Blackhawks know they are a good team; they are champions. They believe they can get back in this series and eventually win it.
If they do, here is how it is likely to happen:
1. Be special
The Blackhawks are losing this series because they are losing the battle on special teams in a lopsided manner.
After opening the series with an 0-fer in Game 1, the Kings are 5-for-10 on the power play. What makes that conversion rate even more shocking is it came against a Blackhawks team at the top of its penalty-killing game in the first two rounds.
Chicago also can't offset the damage being done by Los Angeles when it gets power-play opportunities of its own. After scoring a power-play goal in each of the first two games, Chicago has gone 0-for-9 and blown several opportunities to seize momentum by being ineffective with the man advantage. Overall, the Blackhawks are 2-for-13 for the series.
"That's a big part of the series," said Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, who plays on the penalty kill and power play. "We haven't been scoring on the power play, so we want to keep the goals-against down and it seems like they're taking a pretty good pace right now on the power play, so we've got to find a way to be better on that."
2. Protect the house
All four goals the Kings scored in a 4-3 victory in Game 3 on Monday came with at least one Kings player, if not more, standing right in front of the net. The Kings are scoring on deflections, tips and stuff plays, not by blowing past the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks are not putting bodies on the Kings when they crowd goaltender Corey Crawford, trying to take away his vision. It has worked brilliantly. In Game 4, defenseman Jake Muzzin scored the game-opening goal on the power play with a hard shot from the point. On the play, Kings forward Jeff Carter was less than a foot away from Crawford and completely blocked his ability to track the shot.
The Blackhawks know they have to do a better job of protecting Crawford and clearing the traffic around his crease.
3. Draw the line
Chicago was an elite team in the faceoff circle during the regular season, winning 52 percent of its draws.
But the Blackhawks have been far less effective in the playoffs, especially against the Kings. In the four games, Chicago has never won the majority of the faceoffs. If you don't win the faceoff, you don't possess the puck. If you don't possess the puck, twice as much energy must be expended getting it back.
The Blackhawks have won 109 of the 243 faceoffs in this series.
In particular, the Blackhawks must find an answer for Kings center Jarret Stoll, who has dominated the faceoff circle throughout the series, even though he is most often matched against Jonathan Toews, Chicago's main weapon. Stoll has taken 99 faceoffs this series, winning 56.
4. Go fetch
Perhaps the biggest problem for the Blackhawks when it comes to generating sustained offense is the inability to establish and maintain pressure in the attacking zone. Their cycle, which wore down the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild in the first two rounds, has been absent for much of this series.
The Kings have neutralized the chip-in game of the Blackhawks by winning almost all the battles for 50-50 pucks. So the Blackhawks either turn over the puck at the attacking blue line when attempting to carry it in or they lose it when the Kings are the first ones to claim the dump-in from the neutral zone.
"I think it's just our desperation," Chicago forward Bryan Bickell said. "I think we need to be more desperate and win those board battles. We need to keep it simple, I think. Some plays, we're trying to make the next play, which I think the first play would've been the better play. If we keep it more simple and win those battles, I think we have a good chance."
5. Have fun
The Blackhawks can do nothing about the position they find themselves. They did, or didn't do, the things which have landed them on the brink of elimination.
So all of that needs to be put in the past. All of their energy has to be focused on the task at hand, which is to win Game 5 and force a Game 6 in Los Angeles. Then they can start the process all over again and see where it leads.
"We have to play our game; we've got to go out there and lay it all on the line and let the chips fall where they may," Seabrook said. "At the end of the night, we hope to have a victory and, hopefully, we're flying back to [Los Angeles] and talking to you guys in [Los Angeles]. That's our focus right now.
"Like I said, the guys were upbeat and excited for the game tomorrow, so we're just going to get some rest, get some food back in us and be focused for [Wednesday] morning to try and get this thing going here."