Hawks Need to Get “Greasy” in Game 4

The Chicago Blackhawks look to bounce back against the Minnesota Wild after a 3 – 2 overtime loss Sunday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center. The loss leveled the series 2 – 1 in favor of the Hawks.

Minnesota has been playing the gritty hockey necessary for a first-round match against the top seeded team – and it is, after all, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Until Sunday, the Blackhawks did not seem phased by the increased intensity and physicality. The Madhouse Gang outscored the Wild 7 – 3 in the first two games at the United Center, including a 5 – 2 routing on Friday night. But Minnesota found a way to take down the President’s Trophy winners through physicality (Wild outhit Chicago 34 – 13 in Game 3) and shot-blocking. The Wild outshot Chicago 37 – 27 and managed to keep Harding protected better than the first two meetings of the postseason.

“We didn’t produce the way we’d like to,” said Head Coach Joel Quenneville. “We’ve got to get greasy goals if we want to be successful.”

The Blackhawks did not get greasy goals Sunday afternoon, they got two wide open goals (from about the same spot). Johnny Oduya had an eternity to shoot after a sweet cross-ice pass from Patrick Kane in the first period and Duncan Keith took a similar pass for an open-ice shot late in the third to force overtime. Those goals are nice, but Josh Harding has been giving up big rebounds that should create some second and third-chance opportunities for the Hawks. Minnesota’s defense has been there to bail out Harding or block the shot entirely.

Considering the season he’s had and the heightened stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it feels odd not to mention Patrick Kane’s name as a goal scorer after three games – that’s because he has five assists. The 24-year-old winger has made it a point to find better lanes to set up goals. Kane has completed several spectacular passes this postseason that would make even the most fair-weather fan exclaim, “how did he see that lane?!”

Jonathan Toews, on the other hand, is not so hot. The only numbers on his postseason scoresheet are his 8 shots and 4 penalty minutes. He is certainly one of the hardest working players out on the ice, but his production needs to start reflecting that if Chicago wants to put a stranglehold on Minnesota Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center.

It is not time to panic, however, because the depth of the Blackhawks has been able to ramp up production. The “bottom” two lines have a combined 8 points compared with the “top” two lines with 12 and 7 from defensemen. That kind of production will allow for some extra cushion if the top lines can’t find the back of the net, but it will need to change if Chicago wants to achieve its One Goal.

Chicago’s Power Play has been a point of contention for what feels like forever. They can’t figure out how to make it connect, going 1-for-9 in this series and failing to convert for the 15th time in the last 18 games.

“You can’t go out there and try to make a pretty play,” said Toews of the Power Play efforts. “It’s gotta be ugly.”

The whole team seems to agree that Chicago needs to get back to tough, gritty hockey if they want to keep the pressure going. Sure, it’s nice to see Patrick Kane start a spin-o-rama and send the puck stick-side on Harding. But it’s nicer to see him draw the entire defensive effort to him and send a liner to Harding and create some rebound opportunities. Those “greasy” goals will make or break games for a team.

Dave Bolland (groin) and Ray Emery (lower body) are “close,” according to reports from Blackhawks management, but are not expected to play Tuesday night in St. Paul. Dany Heatly is out with a season-ending shoulder injury for Minnesota, and Jason Pominville (upper body) and Clayton Stoner (unspecified) are out Tuesday night as well. Goalie Niklas Backstrom is uncertain for Game 4 after leaving pregame warm-ups before Game 1 in Chicago.

Opening faceoff is at 8:30 p.m. CT.

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