While it would have been nice to take Game 1 of the series on Wednesday, the Blackhawks showed that they are ready for playoff hockey. A return to the ice for arguably their most important playoff performer and maybe a little better puck luck should get things back on track for the Hawks and get this series tied heading back to Chicago.
Corey Crawford played well enough to win and some of the defensive issues we’ve seen over the past month or so were not apparent on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks had plenty of chances to score, but didn’t cash in on several odd-man rushes or power plays. Sometimes a goalie can win a game in the playoffs, and it appears Elliott was able to do just that and the Blues won on a fluky deflection off Trevor van Riemsdyk that trickled past Crawford. Oh well, that’s why they play up to seven games.
Joel Quenneville often says that the Blackhawks offense starts from the back end, with the defense making quick breakout passes from their defensive zone, leading to rushes and possession the other way. It didn’t seem like the Hawks had much trouble with that in Game 1, and they should be even better with the return of Duncan Keith, last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner awarded to the MVP of the playoffs. Keith is coming back from a six-game suspension for smacking a guy in the face with his stick and should be well-rested and raring to go. Keith usually looks like a jackrabbit out there while logging big minutes for the Hawks during the playoffs and I expect he’ll make a difference tonight.
In his press conferences since Game 1, Blues coach, and doppelganger of former WWE character Paul Bearer, Ken Hitchcock called for his team to be more physical with the Blackhawks. The Blues were credited with 41 hits on Wednesday night, but Hitchcock says he wants the Blues to increase that number to 70 for tonight’s Game 2. Hearing an opposing coach say things like this gives me joy for two reasons. First, the idea of 70 hits in a game is ridiculous. That would also mean that the Hawks have the puck almost the entire game while the Blues are wearing themselves out chasing them around. Second, as everyone should have finally learned from the Anaheim series last year, that approach doesn’t work against the Hawks. So if Hitchcock wants to be a boob and encourage his team to concentrate on physicality rather than puck possession, it is the Blues who will find themselves in a sarcophagus of pain tonight, OOOOHHH YYYEEEESSS!!!!