The Blackhawks weren’t thrilled but they were relieved.
The relief came from the victory, a 2-1 decision over the Tampa Bay Lightning that tied this Stanley Cup Final series at 2-2. The not-so-thrilled feeling was about the Blackhawks’ overall game, which wasn’t great. Once again, the Lightning were very good at making the Blackhawks look not so good.
“These guys are way better than anybody imagined at checking and trying to frustrate you,” Brad Richards said. “So we’re learning that mentality that it might be 2-1 games the rest of the way.”
The Lightning, much like the Anaheim Ducks early in the Western Conference Final, are not letting the Blackhawks get into great scoring areas much. They’re not letting a lot of their shots get through. The Ducks thwarted the Blackhawks by blocking shots. The Lightning are doing it by breaking up the Blackhawks’ long pass attempts and checking very well.
So, how do you break through that stifling check and get those opportunities?
“Its all about our work ethic,” Jonathan Toews said. “I think when we're out there, winning the battles, the puck races, getting body position, I think the more we can have the puck, the better off we'll be.”
There’s one other thing they have to do: they have to be patient. That word came up a lot heading into the second-round series against the Minnesota Wild, another team that doesn’t always allow a lot of scoring chances. The Blackhawks flourished in that series — Patrick Kane led the way — because they didn’t force the issue, didn’t try to make something out of thin air. It’s something they’ll have to do against the Lightning, too.
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“Chances are going to come. We need to execute when they do. At the same time we can't push for offense because that's when we make mistakes,” Brandon Saad said. “They're a good team on the rush and when we turn over the puck, we don't want to feed into their rush game. We want to stay patient, believe in our process and our system.”
The Blackhawks had to work harder to break through the Ducks’ blocks. If they want to win another Cup, they’ll have to do the same with the Lightning’s checking.
“Everybody talks about how offensive they are, but that’s the tightest checking team we’ve played all year," Richards said. "They’re not only tight-checking, they’re quick. They have good sticks and get in your way. They keep pressuring and keep coming. I think we got caught up thinking it would be run and gun, and if we do that, we just feed them. We’ve got to be more patient than them.”