8:10 AM CDT, May 31, 2013
The trendy note going around the NHL says the four teams remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs won the last four championships.
But you need some perspective with that nugget. Goaltending is everything in the playoffs, and only one team starts the goalie who won that title, and that’s the one the Blackhawks are facing.
Jonathan Quick leads the defending champion Kings into the United Center with a 1.50 goals-against average and .948 save percentage, both tops this postseason, and he looms as intimidating on the ice as he is on the scoresheet.
Quick looks like the best player in this Western Conference final, but know this: He can be beaten. The Sharks just did it three times.
Quick beat San Jose in Game 7 with a combination of confident positional play and some amazing acrobatics, similar to the way Hawks goalie Corey Crawford beat Detroit in his Game 7.
Truth is, halfway to the Cup, Quick and Crawford stand as their teams’ most valuable player. Quick is refusing to give up last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy, while Crawford overcame that oops goal in Game 6 and stopped every Red Wings shot except one the rest of the series, right through overtime of Game 7.
Quick represents a big problem for Hawks skaters who seemed to have forgotten how to finish. I mean, some of the Hawks’ top snipers with the most ice time were making Jimmy Howard look like a hero. Compared to Quick, Howard is a squirt goalie who found daddy’s pads and went out to play.
With Quick as the last line of defense, the Kings protected a one-goal lead in the third period of their Game 7, something the Hawks couldn’t do as they abandoned their goalie. Johnny Oduya made a bad read and the rest of the skaters didn’t bother to cover the most dangerous Wing in the most dangerous part of the ice. In the first minute of the most important period of the season. Nice.
But back to beating Quick. He plays aggressively, charging out of his crease to cut down the angle. The Hawks have to use that against Quick.
One strategy involves holding the puck longer to freeze Quick and leave the net wide open. But that requires time, and that’s tough to manage in the Kings zone because they can skate, and when they hit you, you stay hit.
Another plan involves shooting to his far pad to leave him somewhat prone and create rebounds. This presumes traffic in front, which bothers all goalies, and it involves a willingness to crash the crease, which seems to bother some Hawks players.
Another option -- one that plays to the Hawks’ style -- is the kind of tape-to-tape passing that netted Patrick Sharp’s goal against Detroit in Game 7. Moving the puck side-to-side tends to keep a goalie in his crease and freeze defensemen, all of which creates more ice in close.
Quick’s marvelous athleticism can thwart that strategy, too, but the Hawks have to try something, and either way, they’ll need the puck.
That’s another thing. The Hawks lost the faceoff battle in all seven games against Detroit. You can’t play a puck-possession game without the puck. Capt. Obvious signing off now.
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