ST. LOUIS – The Chicago Blackhawks are back at Scottrade Center, and you almost expect to hear “Psycho” or “Jaws” music walking into the building.
This place hasn’t been kind to the Blackhawks. Oh, it hasn’t been getting-rolled-every-game tough; it’s just been another-heartbreaking-late-loss tough. But the Blackhawks come into Scottrade tonight feeling good about themselves. They evened the series at home, they’ve been playing more complete games and they’ve been in these postseason battles before. What’s one more?
Still, the St. Louis Blues will be playing with a little desperation tonight. Sure, we heard what coach Ken Hitchcock said – “this is an advantage game, not an elimination game.” But the Blues certainly don’t want to go into United Center, where they’ve lost their last four games, facing an elimination game.
Oh, and is David Backes playing or not? Hitchcock wouldn’t rule him out for tonight. Backes didn’t skate with teammates on Friday morning. However, St. Louis media reported Derek Roy, who was part of the top four lines during the skate, was on the ice long after skate had ended; sometimes, that’s a sign a player is scratched.
Is Backes playing and Roy is scratched? Did Backes skate at one of the many ice rinks in the St. Louis area? Is Roy just getting a little extra skating done? Can the Blackhawks ever win at Scottrade? While we ponder those questions and enjoy an 80-degree day in St. Louis – you heard us – we’ll also look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Blues game.
1. Play your game, no matter who’s in the lineup.
Oh, we’re going through the will he/won’t he drama again with Backes. It’s not a slam on how injuries are talked about at this time of the year. It’s the postseason: secrets are part of the game. But the Blackhawks can’t get caught up in it either way. They didn’t in Game 4, when they came out with a strong first period, survived a poor lapse in the second and brought home the finish. Focus on playing that game, not who’s in the Blues’ lineup.
2. Don’t get into defensive mode in the final minutes.
The Blackhawks had to go full defensive mode at the end of Game 2, thanks to that five-minute charging penalty on Brent Seabrook and ensuing penalty kill. They could have avoided it in Game 3 but did and staved off the Blues. They were more proactive on the offensive side in Game 4 because they were trailing and had to be. If they need to act like they’re behind in the final 10 minutes, even if they aren’t, then do it. You cannot keep playing on your heels late against the Blues.
3. Keep the Michal Handzus/Ben Smith experiment going.
Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Handzus has been tremendous on the penalty kill, and the way this series has gone, there’ll still be penalties to nix in the next two (or three) games. If that means sitting him some, sending him out with a fourth line that doesn’t play as much and bringing Smith more into the second-line fold, you do it. It’s worked thus far.
4. Corey Crawford, be Game 3 Corey Crawford.
The Blackhawks goaltender had the best response possible after his tough Game 2 ending. He didn’t flinch, didn’t allow a goal in his third career postseason shutout. We’re not saying he has to shut out the Blues again; he just needs to make the necessary stops to cut down on these one-goal dramas.
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5. Our pick to click is… Marian Hossa.
The 200-foot game is never a problem for Hossa, and his defense and puck-stealing abilities remain great. But he’s still paid handsomely to score goals, and he has yet to do that this postseason. We say that skid ends tonight.