This is my second article about the problems with the Blackhawks. They turned it around after the first one, so hopefully they can do the same this time around.
The Hawks are set to play game four against the Nashville Predators Thursday night in Nashville. The Hawks are down 3-0 and there is a mathematically a 2.2 percent chance of them coming back to win the series. If anyone can upset those odds, it is the Blackhawks, who are simply too talented of a team to lose in four games. Of course, they have to play to their potential, which has not been the case thus far in their match-up with the Predators. They have looked lost on the ice because Nashville has outplayed on both ends of the ice. In game four, it is a non-negotiable that the Hawks need to be assertive to win.
The Blackhawks can not win if Jonathan Toews is held off the scoresheet. He is going to need to play better than he has recently, having not scored a goal in 12 consecutive playoff games. Keeping Toews in check has been the main focal point of the Preds’ playoff run to date. Now, with their backs against the wall, Toews needs to beat the Preds schematic attack against him for the Hawks to have a chance.
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne has also seemed unbeatable throughout this series with the Hawks only notching a goal in 1 out of the 10 periods played. He got off to a rocky start in the regular season and was benched for backup Jusse Saros at one point, but the Finnish netminder is showing why he is regarded as one of the best in the world. He has a history of being strong with his glove and the Blackhawks have been shooting right at it. They need to target the five-hole or the blocker side to score.
Aside from that, there also needs to be a net front presence. When Patrick Kane scored in Game 3, Artem Anisimov was right in Rinne’s face, screening him so he was unable to see the puck. On the Dennis Rasmussen goal, he was right at the top of the crease with his stick on the ice, waiting for a beautiful pass from center Marcus Kruger. Rasmussen got just what he was waiting for. His first career playoff goal scored against the same goalie whom he scored his first career goal against in December of 2015.
Although the Hawks need to stay in front of the net to score, they also need to keep the Preds from scoring by playing outstanding defense. The core group of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson will need to be on top of their games to extend the series. They will all be asked to play close to 28 minutes on Thursday to prevent the Nashville attack from gaining any momentum. They will have to play an offensive role in order for the Hawks to be successful as well. Stretch passes have been key to the Blackhawks’ success over the years, and the defense has not been making them thus far in the 2017 Playoffs. It needs to be tape to tape and they can not be intercepted; the defense needs to be careful and, of course, value the puck, but also be willing to make long passes when possible.
The last for the Hawks is Corey Crawford. He was nothing short of outstanding in game three, but a careless mistake allowed Nashville to score their first goal of the game. Crawford did not play until the whistle, which is the most important part of hockey. Crawford could not see the puck, so he was casually turned around looking for it. He seemed to assume it went of of play, but just milliseconds later Filip Forsberg tapped it in for an easy goal. Nashville then gained momentum and sent the game into overtime, where they would eventually win 3-2.
The Blackhawks need to step it up to have a chance in the series and they know it. But, it is my belief that they will have to play their best hockey of the season to even have a chance in the series. Look for Joel Quenneville’s group to come out hard and score early and win game four in Nashville.