If you needed anymore proof that momentum doesn’t carry from game to game in the playoffs, Game 3 between the Predators and Blackhawks should serve as Exhibit A. After exploding for 3 goals at the end of Game 2 and sending the city of Chicago into a rash of overreactions, the Hawks took to Game 3 and made the most of their opportunities.
Even after coughing up two leads in less than a minute, the Hawks continued to dominate play in the middle frame. For whatever reason, this period has been a problem for Nashville all year. There’s really no explanation for something like that. It’s weird, it’s bizarre and it’s hockey.
The Hawks outscored Nashville 3-1 in the second period and it was all the Hawks needed to hold serve on home ice.
Let’s move on to bigger and better things.
–The Hawks are almost embarrassingly deep at forward. Are there any other playoff teams that are choosing between the likes of Antoine Vermette and a rookie phenom on a nightly basis?
Andrew Desjardins is another guy they can choose to dress or scratch. Outside of the New York Rangers, I can’t picture another team that faces such decisions.
Desjardins, the second Nashville goal notwithstanding, had a very strong Game 3. He opened the scoring for the Hawks by nicely cutting across the slot and creating a shooting lane that wasn’t there. In that situation, a lot of other guys *cough Nordstrom cough* would simply fire an off-angle shot towards the net.
Desjardins cut in front of the defenseman forcing Pekka Rinne to move his feet. Even though the first shot was blocked, the puck came right back to him in prime shooting position.
He was also excellent on the forecheck leading to the Hawks fourth goal and opening up space for Jonathan Toews.
–On home ice, Quenneville chose to match up the Cullen line against Toews and that pretty much was the last anyone heard from them. The only Nashville line that was a consistent threat was the Stalberg line matched up against Richards.
I’d say that needs to be fixed….but it’s also Stalberg getting a ton of the chances and we all remember how many of his opportunities he actually scores on.
–Here’s one…no, two things that the Hawks could start doing to really neutralize the Predators. The first being stop reversing their breakouts. It seemed like every time the Hawks tried to reverse the play on a breakout, there was a Predator draped all over them. Then the Predators would establish their forecheck and it would turn into mass paranoia in the Hawks end.
The other thing would be to start incorporating easy high flips out of the defensive zone instead of trying to skate the puck out and/or making an impossible pass.
In other words, play exactly as they did against Winnipeg in their last meeting. Nashville is too quick and too aggressive for the Hawks to try and breakout of their zone perfectly every time. High flips will force their defensemen to not hold the blue line and take their first step back every time a Hawks defensemen gets control of the puck.
Then, it will open up those lanes for a controlled breakout later in the game.
The Hawks did incorporate this at times but there were a lot of opportunities generated by Nashville when the Hawks were coughing up the puck at or around their blue line.
–As a team, the Hawks in the Toews era have never really cared who is in net and neither should you.
When the Hawks play and score like they did today, it really doesn’t matter. Of course, the whole scoring thing partly had to do with Pekka Rinne’s play but whatever.
–The Hawks defense did a really solid job in the third period (and the game, in general) of denying entry into their blue line. Against the Predators defense consistently rushing the puck, this was a huge reason for holding on to their two goal lead. It seemed like the Predators were stunned to see a Hawks stick that close to them every time they crossed the blue line.
This directly led to the Hawks limiting any opportunities generated off the rush and in turn, helped generate offense going the other way.
In Game 4, my guess would be the Predators will either start chipping pucks deep or trying to change the angle of their zone entry to open up lanes within the Hawks defense.
How the Hawks respond to this will be a key thing to watch.
–You’re not going to believe this but with Antoine Vermette in the lineup, the Hawks won 34 of the 59 faceoffs. Even though Vermette went 4-5 in the dot, it makes a huge difference to have 4 guys who can win a faceoff as opposed to three. Crazy, I know.
Nashville did score a goal off a faceoff but that was a pretty impressive set play where the Hawks got caught off guard after Kruger got kicked out of the circle and no one was sure of their responsibilities.
–So we move to Game 4 where the Hawks can really grab hold of this series. You’re starting to get the feeling that Nashville is teetering on the line of a full blown meltdown and they certainly have a cast of characters not to disappoint. Paul Gaustad nearly decapitated Bryan Bickell, James Neal had a ridiculous dirty pick on Patrick Sharp in the final minute and Mike Ribeiro is doing Mike Ribeiro things.
Put them to the sword in Game 4 and we may start to see more.
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