The Chicago Blackhawks have been dealt a rude awakening. After losing two straight to the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks return to Chicago smarting from giving up 8 goals in those games and only scoring two. Even worse, the Hawks laid eggs in both of them. Game 4 may not have been a shut-out, but the play was very similar to the beginning of the last series.
Yes, the Blackhawks do have an advantage, what with the series being tied at 2. They have two games at home, which can help them out. But as any Colorado Avalanche fan can attest, that sometimes doesn’t help. No one ever said that playoff hockey was easy, but it’s the way they’ve playing (i.e. playing stupid and dirty, and making Ilya Bryzgalov looking like an elite goaltender, among other things) that has caused concern.
With Andrew Shaw out, the Hawks are certainly missing some net-front presence. But it’s the disappearance of the Hawks’ stars that should be more concerning. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews were silenced in St. Paul. The only one of them who scored was Patrick Sharp (which is not a bad thing, given that Sharp needs to break out of his slump).
It’s not just the stars’ disappearance, but the sheer number of penalties committed in the second period of Game 4 that in essence killed the Blackhawks. It wasn’t just dirty play, but dumb mistakes like delay of game penalties that put the Hawks into the penalty box one too many times. And there was also Brandon Bollig’s hit on Keith Ballard that got him suspended for two games.
It all points to a simple diagnosis: The Blackhawks fell into the Wild’s trap. The Wild have forced the Hawks to play their game. And the Hawks unknowingly obliged. It’s certainly possible that it may have been caused by Joel Quenneville’s line-shuffling in an attempt to make himself look like the smartest guy in the room. Unfortunately, it backfired (for one thing, that benching of Nick Leddy is incredibly questionable).
The prescription is for the Hawks to get back to their game. That lesson was obvious starting in the last series against the St. Louis Blues, where getting back to their game ensured the Blackhawks’ victory. This is still (mostly) the same team that won the Stanley Cup last year, beating the Wild in the first round. The Hawks can win this series and that means not letting the Wild push them around.