Many opponents are treating Kane differently this season, and this is the series to take advantage of it.
I don’t know how the Red Wings will try to defend him, but many opponents have gone away from trying to physically abuse the smallish Blackhawks winger and chosen to try to contain him.
Most notably, the Phoenix Coyotes targeted Kane for a pounding and delivered in last year’s playoffs. The physical abuse by the Coyotes apparently was so bad that Kane landed face down in Madison, Wisc. Or something like that.
That’s what you do to players with Kane’s wondrous puck skills, especially when those players might not be tall enough to ride Space Mountain.
But then something changed. Kane changed. Kane became better.
After playing in Switzerland during the lockout, Kane returned from his European vacation in great shape, seemingly the strongest of his NHL career. He combined terrific jump and speed with brilliant decision-making. He passed when that was the right play, and he shot when that was the right play, and one of the best stickhandlers in the game also showed off a new level of sleight-of-stick magic.
What happened was, a lot of teams began to give Kane the Pavel Datsyuk treatment. Opponents focused on surrounding him in some loose confederation of forwards and defensemen. Nobody ran him. Specifically, nobody ran out of the flow of the game to hit Kane because nobody wants to get pantsed in front of 20,000 people. Room is respect in the NHL.
Room tends to disappear each round of the playoffs, but Kane has shown a special kind of shiftiness and playmaking this year that seemed to make him dangerous almost every shift. He certainly was a force every time he was on the ice against Minnesota, collecting five assists in five games, and I would expect more of the same this series, even though Detroit is a better team.
But here’s the deal: The Hawks need Kane to finish.
It’s all well and good for Kane to essentially play center once Michal Handzus or Dave Bolland takes the faceoff because Kane arguably stands as the most gasp-inducing passer in the league. But it’s about scoring goals, and Kane’s one playoff goal since potting the Stanley Cup winner in 2010 is one of the big reasons the Hawks have lost two of their last three playoff series.
This new round, however, brings a new belief that Kane will become that goal-scoring fiend we saw when the season began. Specifically, Kane ought to find some good chances against the Wings defensemen.
There is no Nicklas Lidstrom --- glory, glory, hallelujah --- and while there is a Niklas Kronwall, so heads up, this is the spot Kane and the Hawks can exploit. Two Wings defensemen just got their first seven games of playoff experience, and one of them came out with a minus-3. Another kid forced into the lineup has played just three games. One veteran doesn’t have much of a playoff resume, while another veteran among the top four defensemen is a minus-player this postseason.
After struggling to beat a brawny Anaheim team, the Wings and that defense will face greater speed and talent starting tonight. Truth is, this is not just a spot the Hawks can exploit, but one they must.
I’m talking five-on-five and the power play. Especially the power play. The Wings’ penalty killing surprisingly ranks last among surviving playoff teams. This is the time the Hawks ought to improve that 15.4 power-play conversion rate.
Kane has one goal in his last 18 playoff games. This is the series that has to change. This is the series that the Hawk with the party reputation turns into DJ Cheslea Dagger.