In the first two contests, the Blues played the Hawks like they were puppets on a string. Back and forth the hits went. Instead of focusing on the uptempo attack that they were known for, the Hawks wanted to shut the bully up. The Blues were controlling the Hawks by enticing them to retaliate.
Basic “Handling A Bullying 101” teachings state that in order to beat a bully, one must outsmart them instead of stooping to their level. In hockey, when a team starts throwing punches, a team must stick to their game. The Hawks did not do that the first two times out. Instead, they took the offensive approach and tried to outmuscle the Blues. Costly penalty after costly penalty ensued, and one fatal blow to David Backes by Brent Seabrook resulted in a three-game suspension for the defenseman and a giant hole for the team to climb out of.
The message was clear from the league entering Game 3 at the United Center: dirty play of any kind would not be tolerated. This was the wake-up call the Hawks needed. They realized that to beat the big bad Blues, they had to outsmart them by playing their game and not adapting St.Louis’ style.
While the fast-paced game that is the Blackhawks’ bread and butter did not result in much of an advantage on Monday night, not falling into the Blues’ trap did. From the get-go, St.Louis continued to attempt to beat the Hawks’ skaters into submission. The Blues finished the game with 41 hits compared to the Hawks 27. As Chicago kept on getting knocked down, they responded by not coming out with a desire to attack, but instead focused on trying to out-skate their opponent.
Slapshot after slapshot occurred after Jonathan Toews‘ goal in the first. Blues goalie Ryan Miller was a human vacuum, disallowing as many rebounds as possible. The Hawks were dismal on the power play, going 0-for-4. Frustration began to set in, but once again the Hawks did not use this as a means to attack the Blues when they controlled the puck.
They learned from their previous mistakes that when they would hit a Blues player away from the puck, they opened up lanes for St. Louis to attack. With revenge on their mind, St.Louis tempted the Hawks to abandon their game plan once again. Unlike the previous two games, Chicago stuck to the game plan.
It will be interesting to see how the Blues respond in Game 4 after losing 2-0 on the road. Obviously, they will not abandon their all-out brawl mentality. While most are certain that St.Louis will stick to the style of play that got them this far, it is still in question whether the Hawks will do the same for a second straight game. If they want to even up the series, they definitely will have to.