Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings was awful for the Chicago Blackhawks. As I watched it, I was reminded of the way they played in the semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings, which led them to their 3-1 game deficit. Their game against the Kings was just as sloppy, unstructured and undisciplined. It was a hot mess, but hey, a lot of fans wanted them to split the road trip anyway.
On top of that, Duncan Keith did a boneheaded thing when he gave a high stick to Jeff Carter’s face. Carter got away with slashing his hand (which set Keith off), but Keith will have to sit out Game 4 due to his one-game suspension. His absence leaves a big hole to fill, because he’s been their best player in this conference final. Sheldon Brookbank will take his place in the defensive pairings, but that won’t make up for Keith’s presence on the ice or his chemistry with Brent Seabrook.
So what do the Blackhawks do now? They need to remember that they were in this same spot against the Red Wings and play as though they’re in danger of being eliminated. The Kings took control of the neutral zone and clogged it, making it really hard for the Blackhawks to even get into their zone. What the Blackhawks did against the Red Wings could work against the Kings, so they need to at least try that.
Once they get in the Kings’ zone, they need to plant themselves at the net and go for those rebounds that Jonathan Quick gives up. The dirty goals count just as much as the pretty ones. Speaking of pretty, Patrick Kane needs to stop trying to make pretty passes and just shoot. He has the confidence, but he’s second guessing himself too much and trying to play fancy. There’s a time and place for that, but it’s not now.
They also need to be aggressive right off the bat. The Kings are 22-0-0 in the regular season and playoffs when they score first. If the Blackhawks want any kind of advantage, they need to strike first and often. It’s the best way to knock the Kings back on their heels and get in their heads.
Tonight’s game can either even the series or make the Blackhawks’ return to Chicago an elimination game. It’s the difference between going backwards and being one step closer to the Stanley Cup Final.