BOSTON – The zero on the Chicago Blackhawks’ side of the scoreboard was a rare sight. It was just the second time they suffered that number, or lack thereof, in the postseason or regular season.
Through their first 18 games this postseason, including Game 1 against Boston, the Blackhawks scored 51 goals (2.83 goals/game). Now they have just one over their last two games, and that last goal came in the first period of Game 2 on Saturday night, via Patrick Sharp.
What has happened to the Blackhawks’ offense?
“I think as we progress, it’s tough to get to double-digits (in scoring opportunities),” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a tight game and scoring is going to be really challenging. But we’ve got to be ready to play that kind of game. Let’s look to get that first goal and try to sustain it.”
The Blackhawks had few problems doing that through most of this postseason. They couldn’t have been more determined and shot-heavy in Game 1. Obviously there are three overtimes factored in there, but the Blackhawks from the start were firing at just about any chance they got. That continued in the first period of Game 2, when they had some choice opportunities among their 19 shots on goal.
But that’s been absent the past five-plus periods. They’ve looked tentative, their shots coming more from the perimeter than from up close. There are no bodies in front of the net. And it’s been widespread. Jonathan Toews’ offensive struggles have been well documented this postseason. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have had their moments, Bryan Bickell was great through the first three rounds. All, however, have been quiet in this series.
The Bruins deserve some credit. They’ve gotten in the Blackhawks’ way, be it with blocking their shots or bringing more physicality to slow them down. Bruins coach Claude Julien said it’s not about targeting one guy so much as it is the entire team.
“With a team that skates as well as the Blackhawks, you have to close gaps quickly. If you focus on one guy, you’re forgetting about someone else,” he said. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for their offense, and if we want a chance to win we have to slow down that offense.”
It’s also about getting bodies in the way, and the Bruins have been doing that too. Dave Bolland said you just have to fight through it.
“You’ve got to get in front. For us, it’s just battling through, getting in front,” he said “Those are the main things: taking your man to the net and get in front of him. The more you do that, the worse it is for him. It’s just battling, getting them moving.”
So far, so good for the Bruins, but the Blackhawks still need to find a way. As Toews observed after Game 2, “nobody’s going to give you anything easy.” Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said it’s very clear what the Blackhawks have to do in Game 4.
“Score goals. Get in front of the net and shoot more pucks,” he said. “We’re making it a little too easy for Tuukka (Rask) right now and we’ve got to hit the net. We had a couple good chances, too, we could’ve buried but we missed the net. So just more pucks and more people in front of the net.”
When the Blackhawks were doing that, be it against Rask or Jonathan Quick or whoever the goaltender was, they were threatening and they were scoring. They need to get back to that soon, or their Cup dreams will disappear much like their scoring has.