Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Blackhawks

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Hawk Talk: How to Beat the Blackhawks

Friday, April 30, 2010
9:18 PM

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

Its the matchup that the Chicago Blackhawks are licking their chops over and the rematch that the Vancouver Canucks have endeavored a year to experience. No matter how you flip the puck, Chicago-Vancouver Mach II appears to be dead even. Here are 10 ways Vancouver can advance past the Hawks:

Dirty Work: The Nashville Predators were in many ways the antithesis of the Blackhawks, a team that had to scratch and claw for any advantage over the sublimely talented Hometown Heroes. That heads-down approach gave Nashville 1-0 and 2-1 leads in the series, and pushed the Blackhawks to within 14 seconds of an elimination game. Vancouver matches up much more similarly to the Blackhawks, a team so talented it may be tempted to coast. But Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault is a sharp cookie, and hes doubtlessly lecturing his charges on the advantages to pinning the Blackhawks quickly. Despite being almost an alter-ego to the Preds in terms of discipline and grit, if the Canucks can get the first punch in on the Hawks, unease again may set in for Chicago.

Push Their Panic Button: A Joel Quenneville team is normally immaculately prepared and motivated from the get-go, which made the malaise his team felt throughout the early stages of the Nashville series particularly perplexing. While an immediate Vancouver win in the series is probably not integral to an overall series win, the Canucks are coming into Chicago on an emotional high, motivated by a grudge held for a yearso any mucking up of Chicagos game plan could yield emotional riches down the road. Quenneville is a known tinkerer, and while his overhaul of the club prior to Game 4 of the quarterfinals yielded three straight wins and advancement, shuffling for shufflings sake still can take a toll on a team. If the Canucks can find a way to push Cool Hand Qs panic button early, it could leave the Blackhawks unsettled for the duration. After all, Quennevilles been known to switch lines or pull goalies at the first whiff of a gentle breeze.

On a related note, to everyones surprise, the Blackhawks admitted being ill-prepared and perhaps undermotivated after losses to Nashville in Games 1 and 3 of the quarters. If Vancouver senses any such lack of (in Qs parlance) compete level, expect the Canucks to swoop in and stomp the heart out of the Hawks.

Keep em Slippy-Sloppy: Normally cool and collected, Chicago was downright panic-prone in their own zone for most of the quarterfinals. Fortunately, Nashville was so offensively-challenged that numerous soft clears and sheer misfires failed to haunt the Hawks. Sure, Chicago was a team in transition at the blue line, with temporary insert Dustin Byfuglien feeling his way back into his own zone, but that sort of laissez-faire defense will absolutely fail to fly against Vancouver, who will bury every bumble the Blackhawks make.

A Little LuLu: No doubt, Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo has had some struggles against the Blackhawks. Last years semifinals as a whole (allowing 23 goals in six games), and particularly the meltdown in a 7-5 loss in Game 6 that reduced the future Olympic gold medalist to tears, stand as stark examples of that. But even taking into account a five-goal first period in the regular-season finale vs. Chicago two months ago, Luongo has been very good against the Blackhawks. Over the past four regular seasons, Lu is 10-5-0 vs. Chicago, with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage. He is more than capable of winning a couple of games on his own in this series, and with the shaky defensive corps in front of him, he may have to.

Play the Predss Way: While the Canucks fly just as fast as the Blackhawks and arguably boast a higher-octane offense, dont be surprised to see Vigneault pull a few Barry Trotz tricks out of the playbook. Vancouver went up 2-1 in last years semis vs. Chicago on the strength of a slightly buttoned-down game, and only when they strayed from that plan did the Vancouver lose its grip on the series. While the Canucks dont quite have the defensive chops of Nashville that would allow them to simply dominate the series from the blue line, they do have enough feistiness to bring the game right to Chicagos jawline. Based on how the Blackhawks wilted in the face of some of Nashvilles physical pressure, a bit of a brawling mentality could go a long way in the semis.
Attack the Antti-Dote: The Canucks are definitely drawing a line connecting Jonathan Quick, the Los Angeles Kings goalie who they eviscerated in the quarterfinals, to Blackhawks rookie cageminder Antti Niemi. Quick bears a lot of resemblance to Niemi, from physical size to playoff experience. The two netminders also leave the top shelf open often, so Vancouver, coming off its playoff-best 4.17 goals per game in the quarterfinals, is relishing having spent six games feasting on a Niemiesque netminder. In particular, the Canucks have made note of Niemis tendency to let loose rebounds and hope to make the rookie pay for any of his leavings.

Wonder Twins Powers, Activate: Vancouvers top line of the Sedin twins and Alexandre Burrows is more potent than any line the Blackhawks skate out, so potent that when Vigneault switched in Mikael Samuelsson for Burrows in advance of the Los Angeles series, that new formation became a postseason sensation, piling up 12 goals and 29 points in six games. That the top line, including Burrows or Samuelsson, creates interesting matchup challenges for Quenneville is an understatement. The Sedins have combined to compile 29 points in 31 games vs. the Blackhawks over the past four seasons and boast a combined plus-15 in that time, Samuelsson has 17 points in 20 games and played even and Burrows has scored 10 points in 16 games and boasts a plus-10.

Q cannot send his top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell out to stop Vancouvers aces, so the challenge will likely fall to the second swarm (Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky). Hossa has impressed all season with his two-way play, Sharp is an underrated defender and Kopy is the ultimate X factor, playing his best hockey of the season and powered by just a wee bit of crazy. But if the Sedins-led first line can win their battles with Chicagos second, the prospects for a Canucks upset increase exponentially.

Immovable Object Meets Unstoppable Force, Part 2: The Blackhawks more or less played even in the quarterfinals, when their meager power play took on Nashvilles downright awful penalty kill. It will be interesting to see how the penalty unit battle play out in the semis. Vancouver is coming off a .250 power-play performance vs. Los Angeles, so the days of Chicagos solid unit holding a team to one-of-27 in a series are long gone. On the flip side, the Canucks have been downright awful killing penalties, taking a middling unit during the regular season and putting up a howlingly-bad .615 vs. the Kings, the worst PK mark of the playoffs. So the Hawks take their .174 PP unit (yes, thats a slight dip from their regular season success rate) and find yet another balm in Vancouver, which has been running a Canadian fire drill every time one of its men finds his way to the box. If the Canucks can regain even their average PK capability and crack Chicagos air of invincibility when theyre defending its zone a man down, that will be another twist that brings a conference finals closer to Vancouver.

Muting the Volume: As a veteran club, the Canucks wont be intimidated by the United Center crazies, despite how much they despise the dulcet tones of Chelsea Dagger. Theyve won in Chicago beforeand in the playoffs, as recently as Game 3 last season. Another factor conspiring against Canuck intimidation is the fact that against the ineffectual offensive attack of the Predators, Chicago somehow managed to blow third-period leads twice in three home games. Vancouver might not be the most mentally sound club in the NHL, but recent historical results like those will breed confidence if trailing late in the Madhouse.

Bad Influence: OK, it might not be the nicest thing to say, calling the Couv a bit mentally weak. But the proof is all around, from physical tete-a-tetes to goalie meltdowns. Most instructive from a full-roster standpoint, however, is Vancouvers tendency to occupy space in the penalty box: The Canucks were 26th in the NHL in PIM with 15.5 during the regular season, reduced to just 13.8 so far in the postseason. Its a big if, but if Vancouver can shift from sloppy or dirty play to conniving creativitydrawing the Blackhawks into the box with fights or inviting retaliatory playsitll be advantage, Canucks.

Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should Blackhawks' One Goal be to tank?

On the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Seth Gruen (Big Ten Unfiltered) and Jason Goch (SB Nation Radio) join Kap on the panel. 

The Blackhawks drop their 8th straight. So should their “One Goal” be to tank?

Plus, Jon Lester isn’t a fan of the new pace of play proposals. Is he right?

Listen to the full SportsTalk Live Podcast right here:

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

With playoff chances all but over, what can Blackhawks do at trade deadline?

After losing their eighth straight game and falling 12 points out of a wild-card spot in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks' playoff chances have dipped to a season-low 0.2 percent. It would take a miracle for them to extend their postseason streak to 10 at this point, where getting just one win seems like a monumental task.

The Blackhawks were probably never really going to be buyers before the Feb. 26 trade deadline even if they were still in the hunt, but it's hard to imagine they had plans to be sellers. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has reiterated over and over again that he's confident in this group, one that's getting younger and faster.

But now they've reached a territory where they have to consider selling off spare parts simply to coup some draft picks or prospects that they could perhaps retain or use as sweeteners in the offseason.

So which players could the Blackhawks realistically sell?

Let's start with the two players getting rewarded with top-six ice time as of late: Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels.

These are two players that play with high energy and go to the greasy areas, something that's important in the playoffs when scoring goals becomes more difficult. They can clean up rebounds. Wingels, particularly, likely has more value and it's showing given his recent success on the power play as a net-front presence guy. He also isn't a stranger to the playoffs with 54 games under his belt compared to Bouma's five.

Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and are making $1 million or fewer, which certainly works in the Blackhawks' favor considering they won't cost much and their cap hits are easy to fit in on any interested team.

Maybe a team would like to take a flyer on Tomas Jurco, who's a restricted free agent at the end of the season, but that would be a move somebody makes as more of a longer term project than strengthening your depth for a playoff run this spring.

On the back end, Michal Kempny and Jan Rutta could be in play for a contender looking to ensure some depth as a sixth or seventh defenseman. Again, each of them are making less than $1 million so it's a low-risk situation for clubs whose Plan A or B fall through and may be interested in at least getting something.

While they don't have much NHL experience, they're both 27 years old and have played the sport long enough to know what they can bring to the table.

Once Feb. 26 passes and potential roster spots open up, expect the Blackhawks to start calling up the kids. 

Matthew Highmore deserves a look after leading the Rockford IceHogs with 20 goals and 32 points. John Hayden has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 15 games since joining Rockford, and belongs in the NHL. Even Anthony Louis, who's taken a step forward, should get a taste of the action as he continues his development.

Carl Dahlstrom is getting his shot now. Erik Gustafsson is in that process as well. Gustav Forsling had another extended look during the first half of the season before the team decided it would be wise to continue his development in Rockford, where he can play top-pairing minutes.

All of this would give the Blackhawks a better indicator of how they can approach the upcoming offseason, and which young guys they can possibly add into the mix for 2018-19. But first, we have to see how the end of February plays out before making those calls.