The Chicago Blackhawks lead the Western Conference finals 2-1 over the defending champion LA Kings going into tonights matchup. The Kings are undefeated at home this postseason, and look to keep that pace tonight at the Staples Center to even out the series.
The Blackhawks will be without top defenseman Duncan Keith on their roster tonight, who was given a one-game suspension by the Department of Player Safety on Wednesday for high-sticking LA forward Jeff Carter in Game 3.
Keith was given a double minor penalty on the spot for the high-stick, which later deemed to be “retaliatory” in nature, left Carter with a 20-stitch gash on his face and a few cracked teeth. Sheldon Brookbank has been added to the Hawks’ bench for Game 4 in Keith’s absence.
While the Blackhawks are more than capable of rallying as a whole without Duncs, Keith leaves some big skates to fill when it comes to ice time and assists. Can they do it without Duncan? Yes. Because they have to.
Taking a victory on Kings ice tonight would give the Blackhawks a huge boost in this series. Not only because a 3-1 lead is an obvious advantage (duh?), but because it takes away a big chuck of momentum for the Kings heading back to Chicago for Game 5.
Looking forward to tonight and the rest of this series, there are a couple questions that need to be addressed if the Blackhawks are going to be successful:
Can Shaw stay out of the box?
Andrew Shaw leads the Blackhawks in penalties in minutes with 24 PIM. While his residency in the penalty box has cooled off a little, he has racked up the minutes this postseason for everything from interference, slashing, roughing, to misconduct. To be fair, a majority of Shaw’s trips to the box occurred during the heated Detroit series, and in particular one game on May 20th that the Red Wings took 3-1.
The point of this question isn’t totally to call out Shaw, but rather the dangers of careless penalties that leave the Blackhawks shorthanded on the ice for any amount of time.
While the Blackhawks managed to have one of the better penalty kills in the league during the regular season, and continue to keep a healthy PK% spread over the remaining postseason teams– giving up only 2 PPGs in 53 PKs, the more time the Hawks spend shorthanded, the less time they have to create solid offensive opportunities. Players being sent to the box definitely is not the death sentence to the Blackhawks as it might be to a few other teams, but they still cannot afford to give away power play opportunities to their opponent, especially when they aren’t delivering on their own man-advantage opportunities.
Can Kane Produce?
I find myself double checking to see if Kane is even on the ice lately. Sure enough no. 88 is out there, but not doing a whole lot. Coach Q has said that they are definitely looking for a little more from Kane, and it’s time he step up.
A lot of Kane’s inability to drive pucks to the back of the net has to do with the fact that he’s Patrick Kane, and opponents are playing smart by keeping such a dangerous player virtually immobile in the attacking zone.
Still, he’s not the only star player not delivering. Captain Jonathan Toews has only tallied one goal in the postseason, another case of being kept under heavy guard. Both Kane and Toews have averaged only 2 shots on goal in the last three games.
If Chicago is going to take charge of this series tonight, they have to find a way to create some space around their star skaters and strengthen their opportunities to score.
Can Bickell keep it up?
Bryan Bickell has been one of the most delightful surprises of this Blackhawks postseason. Number 29 is currently tied for third in playoff goals with Sidney Crosby (PIT), Pascal Dupuis (PIT), and Nathan Horton (BOS). Seven goals puts Bickell only two behind his regular season record with the Hawks and on the radar of a lot of teams across the league given his contract in Chicago is nearing its end.
While Bickell’s performance has been undeniably impressive, notching at least one point in all three games versus LA so far, his two game winning goals this postseason add weight to the fact that the Blackhawks’ depth is their greatest attribute this season. The Hawks’ third line is responsible for at least fourteen of their forty playoff goals, with nods to Andrew Shaw (4-3-7) and Michael Frolik (3-2-5) who are both in the top five of Blackhawks playoff goal-scorers.
If Byran Bickell can continue to be in the right place at the right time and put that puck at home behind LA’s Jonathan Quick, all the better for the Blackhawks moving forward.
Puck drops tonight at 8pm CT.