They’ve lost two games in agonizing fashion, the second more crushing than the first. They lost one of their top defensemen to a three-game suspension. Their confidence is shaken against a team that’s rediscovered theirs after a late-season slump.
The Blackhawks have one hell of a task facing them. They’re down 0-2 in their first-round series to the St. Louis Blues, a series could just as easily be 2-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor or even at 1-1. But for several reasons, it’s not.
So what do the Blackhawks need to do to give themselves a chance to come back and win this series? Let’s look at a few topics:
1. Corey Crawford needs to be better. Crawford was angry with himself on Saturday after allowing the game-winning overtime goal. “I have to find a way to make that save, and our guys need me to make a save at the end. I have to be better.” Coach Joel Quenneville’s reaction on Sunday: “He said he needs to be better, and he needs to be better.” Crawford needs to be at that Conn Smythe level he was at last postseason. Yes, he had that bad glove game vs. Boston in the Stanley Cup Final. But for the most part, Crawford was rock solid. For all the great stops he makes, he still allows that bad goal now and then. Unfortunately, in Game 2, he allowed it at the worst possible time. The Blackhawks have scored three goals in each of the first two games; that should be enough support.
2. Does the lineup need fresh blood? Yes, we can hear everyone now: Bring Jeremy Morin into the lineup. Perhaps even Peter Regin, who looked just fine as part of the Blackhawks’ third line late in the regular season. But we’re calling for lineup changes for different reasons than you’re probably expecting. The Blackhawks could benefit from the energy those guys can bring. They would have jump, and they would give the Blackhawks a little added oomph. Morin showed in his late regular-season games he’s not afraid to mix it up a little, either. When asked if there would be any lineup changes for Game 3, Quenneville said, “we’ll see.” It might be time to see.
3. Be smarter. You want to hit? Go ahead and hit. You want to play with some venom? Do so. You want to be aggressive? Full speed ahead. But be smart about it. The Blackhawks have gone to the box way too often already in these first two games. No, the Blues power play hasn’t exactly been lights out in this series, but you’re playing with fire when you constantly put it on the ice. You’re also wearing out your penalty killers. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. “With a lot of emotions, you’ve got to keep your head cool,” Johnny Oduya said on Sunday. “That’s something we’ve talked about. Same thing, moving forward: We want to be better with that part.”
4. Bring the right response. In the department of what could have been (yes, I hate the woulda, coulda, shoulda, but bear with me), how would Game 2 have gone if the Blackhawks played even a decent first period? The Blackhawks said they forgot about the Game 1 triple-overtime loss, but after watching those first 20 minutes on Saturday, all evidence pointed to the contrary. They were sloppy, they looked listless and they were thoroughly outplayed. When they did flip the switch, they looked like themselves again, but they can’t start like that again.
5. Make Ryan Miller’s life miserable. Miller’s made a lot of stops in this series, and you credit him for that. But he hasn’t been challenged as much as he should be. The Blackhawks’ net-front presence, so visible in those late regular-season games without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, has gone AWOL. Two of the goals that beat Miller on Saturday were deflected — they were deflected by his teammates, but it worked, didn’t it? The Blackhawks need to crash the net more, get in Miller’s face more, bring traffic more.