Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville changed lines.
Of course, Quenneville changed lines. That’s what he does when things get dire, and sometimes even when they don’t.
But in the second period of Game 4 of the Western Conference finals in Los Angeles, the Hawks were desperate. Sure, they had established their pace. Sure, they were moving the puck through the center because they smartly avoided getting pinned along the boards. But the Hawks were desperate.
They had just blown a two-man advantage of nearly a minute in a one-goal game. Then they wasted the subsequent 5-on-4 advantage.
The Hawks might’ve been criticized for trying to be too cute on the two-man advantage, but that’s the smart play. Work for one shot. Instead, the Hawks managed none.
With a 5-on-4 advantage, the idea is to shoot and crash the net. The Hawks couldn’t do that, either, managing one shot that Kings goalie Jonathan Quick saw and gloved.
The Hawks failed to get the puck into the dangerous area or move it well enough to create a clean blast. They needed to be clutch. They were capable only of playing catch along the perimeter.
And so, the Hawks were desperate, and oh, were they ever missing suspended defenseman Duncan Keith.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, they say your best players have to be your best players. In these playoffs, the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook have been some of their most worst.
It’s hard enough to beat Quick even up, and here were the Hawks blowing a golden chance.
Or maybe it’s not that hard.
As he does when the Hawks struggle to create offense, Quenneville put together Kane and Toews, and bang, here came one important sequence, perhaps the most important sequence of the playoffs going forward.
Kane motored around the slot and shot. Toews shot near the right. Kane centered to Niklas Hjalmarsson for a slap shot at the top of the slot. Finally, Kane shoveled in a Bryan Bickell deflection that trickled behind Quick to make it 2-2 late in the second period.
Just like that, the two struggling stars from whom Quenneville said he needed more were reunited and immediately started, continued and finished a critical scoring play.
Quenneville, of course, changes a second line when he changes a first, and would you look at that:
Hossa, who was dropped from Toews’ line, took a slick pass from Michal Handzus, who used to center Kane, and roofed the go-ahead goal 70 seconds into the third period. Three-two, Hawks.
Talk about your ultiamte two-fer: Quenneville changed his top two lines, and one scored the tying goal while the other nailed the winner.
The Hawks protected that lead the rest of the way, limiting the Kings to just two shots in the third period. Three games to one, Hawks.
A win at home Saturday puts them in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since Kane scored that forever goal. Interesting how it always seems to come back to certain names.
The Hawks weren’t going to do anything in this series if their stars couldn’t score, especially in a rink where the Kings hadn’t lost this postseason. Some of the Hawks’ biggest stars showed up Thursday night. They scored goals that turned the game and the series.
Nice of them to help out Bickell.