The war of words has gone back and forth since Game 2: who said what, who’s accusing who of saying what and who’s got something to say about everything else that’s been said.
Wait, what did we just say?
Anyway, the off-ice chatter has been as heated as the on-ice action, the latter of which we’ll (mercifully) get back to tonight when the Chicago Blackhawks host the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their first-round series.
We’ve used the “must-win” phrase a lot with the Blackhawks already. They came so achingly close to tying the series on Saturday – hell, it could easily be 2-0 in their favor, too. But we digress. This is about Game 3 and moving forward, which each team says it’s looking to do after bad hits, trash talk and other accusations.
So while we wait and see what big hits and big talk come out of this evening, let’s look at the (other) Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blues-Blackhawks game.
1. Review your final two regular-season games vs. the Blues here and repeat them, ASAP.
Remember those two Blackhawks-Blues games at the United Center in March and April. There was no Patrick Kane for most of one, no Kane or Jonathan Toews for the second. Didn’t matter: the Blackhawks played postseason-style hockey in those contests, crashing the net, jumping on rebounds and not waiting to find the perfect shot. That is how they need to play tonight. Give Ryan Miller a hard time by clogging every sight line available.
2. Don’t get caught up in the physical game.
The thought of matching the Blues hit for hit is ridiculous. Sorry, if you’ve just started watching, the Blackhawks are not built for that. This is a puck-possession team and that’s the game they have to play, not one that’s played much better by the opposition. If the big, clean hit is there, then take it. Otherwise, get the puck, get moving and beat the Blues at your game, not theirs. That being said…
3. Bryan Bickell, bring the physical.
The Blues weren’t too happy with some of the hits Bickell had in Game 2, including a knee-to-knee one on Vladimir Sobotka, and they said so. Bickell said, “I’m going to try to finish my check every time. I don’t think I’m a dirty player that looks to throw knees out or hit high. I’m just an honest checker. Things like that are going to happen. Guys want to get out of the way to avoid hits. It happens that way and I just need to keep going.” Bickell definitely needs to keep going in trying to be that guy he was in the 2013 postseason. Be smart but be tough.
4. Stay out of the stinking penalty box.
Oh, this has been a bigger problem than anticipated at the start of this series. The Blackhawks displayed great restraint and discipline through most of the regular season but they’ve lost their cool too often the past two games, especially in Game 2. The Blues’ power play isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire but let’s remember: they did tie the game in the waning seconds off that Brent Seabrook charging call. Just don’t give the Blues that many advantages; it’ll likely be costly if you do.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Marian Hossa.
The Blackhawks need their top players to play accordingly, and Hossa’s been a little too quiet in these first two games. He needs to make himself heard tonight.