9:40 AM CDT, June 18, 2013
The Bruins are pounding the Blackhawks physically.
They are killing the Hawks at the faceoff circle.
They are beating them on the scoreboard.
Hat trick. In fact, that’s the dead-bang hat trick that guarantees losing a Stanley Cup Final.
Playoff hockey requires absorbing abuse to make a play, and you need the puck to do anything, specifically and especially score.
After getting shut out in Game 3 on Monday night, one of the highest-scoring teams in the league has gone six long, empty, mostly miserable periods without a goal.
All of that has to change, starting with the forward lines. Joel Quenneville knows that whatever nice traits and new stats exist to compare teams, the scoreboard is the only metric that matters. To that end, and presuming Marian Hossa still won’t be able to play, Stevie Sunshine is here to change lines.
First, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have to play together, mostly because they’ve just stunk playing apart.
Quenneville put them together in the third period of the Game 2 loss -- on a penalty kill. Seriously? That’s your move? With Hossa out and the Hawks desperate for goals?
The coaching move of the playoffs, then, is Boston’s Claude Julien putting Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin around Chris Kelly. The Bruins can make a killer third line, but Quenneville can’t make one line that looks dangerous?
Neither Toews nor Patrick Kane has scored in the first three games of the final. So what? If you put them together, it at least quarantines some big-money players from infecting teammates with whatever is making them come up small.
Toews is playing as if he’s hurt -- knee, hand, concussion, something -- and not only has one goal in 20 playoff games, but is now losing faceoffs. Kane disappears for long stretches of every postseason. If found, please call ...
Putting them together figures to be the only way to ignite both. Maybe it’ll raise the dead that is the power play. Putting Bryan Bickell out there with them is the Hawks’ best shot at finding the magic they had earlier in the postseason.
If the Bruins counter with Chara on defense and Patrice Bergeron’s line up front, fine. At some point the Hawks’ best players have to be the best players if they’re going to be the best team.
Second line, I’ve got Patrick Sharp centering Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw. Quenneville put Sharp back in the faceoff circle in Game 3 because everybody else was a disaster. He won a majority of his faceoffs, and this organ-I-zation did win a Cup with Sharp as the No. 2 center, a need that general manager Stan Bowman still hasn’t fixed.
Sharp was the only dangerous Hawks forward in Game 3, gaining the zone mostly by using his speed to go wide. He can still do that at center instead of wing. He’s as reliable defensively as he is gifted offensively, and he’s faster than Dave Bolland and Michal Handzus, but then who isn’t?
With Saad and Shaw on the wings, that line would have two skaters willing to bang with the big Bruin bodies in front of the net. Shots from the point might come easier, if the defensemen can get them through, that is.
Next line, I’d leave Bolland between Michal Frolik and Marcus Kruger. They created some good pressure off their defense, and face it, the Bruins have such offensive depth that this line would have to think check first.
The fourth line? I’d try not to play it, but if I had to dress three more forwards, I’d have Handzus between Ben Smith and Viktor Stalberg. There’s just enough speed on the wing to get a lucky bounce.
Whatever his lines, Quenneville must emphasize chipping the puck deep and chasing it down. The Hawks haven’t found a way to beat the Bruins’ trapping defense in the neutral zone, and while I don’t mind them trying because they have the talent, I’m exasperated by their insane refusal to adjust to the game that’s there.
Make the Bruins defensemen turn around. Run them into the glass. Pinch as they rim the puck. Slow down their breakouts.
That’s the thing: The Hawks don’t know how to gain the Bruins zone consistently and haven’t forechecked hard enough or smart enough to keep the puck in.
Game 3 was a lot of one-and-done for the Hawks offense. Quenneville said his players made it easy on Boston goalie Tukka Rask. What he should’ve added is that his forwards made it easy for the Bruins to clear the puck.
With a win in Game 4 on Wednesday, the Hawks would change the conversation. The series would be tied and the Hawks would regain home-ice advantage. They’re capable of big road wins. But they have to change a lot of other things first.
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