Thursday, June 3, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
PHILADELPHIA Riddle me this: Are the Chicago Blackhawks not the most criticized winner of the first two of three Stanley Cup Finals games in recent memory?
First, horror of horrors, the Blackhawks won the Game 1 slugfest over the Philadelphia Flyers because their goalie was just a bit better and puck possession a smidge stronger. Then in Game 2, the Philly hung in with Chicago, which apparently earns a tie point or somethingnot sure, it doesnt seem to show up in the series records. And with a loss in Game 3Chicagos first in eight playoff gamesits as if somehow a series of breakdowns and bounces earned the Flyers two or three victories instead of just one.
Yes, its all the rage to point out that the Flyers are back in it ad nauseam. Well, sure, in that theyre not down 3-0, the Flyers are back in it.
But its an opportune time to again mention picking the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup Finals in five games. Game 3 was the contest that the Hawks would most likely lose, and on the hush-hush in private correspondence your faithful hockey servant anticipated a Blackhawks blowout in either Game 3 or 4so you have a read on what I think is coming.
However, some folks prefer to see their cups half-empty, and giving them something to wring their hands over is arguably a public service. So, in the interest of fair play, as well as keeping Philadelphias pipe dream alive, here are three key weaknesses weve seen in the Blackhawks.
Cool Hand Qs Shufflin Crew
Its about time for Dustin Byfuglien to shuffle off to another line, yes? Its not so much hes played poorly or been baited by Flyers jokesterdefenseman Chris Prongeralthough those arguments could be made. But it is definitely time to stop the bullheadedness of keeping the first line that crushed the San Jose Sharks together for nostalgias sake. The Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane-Byfuglien line rallied the Blackhawks into the Finals, and it will be remembered forever fondly for that. But Coach Joel Quenneville, who has been notoriously flip (and in the playoffs, super savvy) about pulling the trigger on player substitutions and remade forward lines, has been strangely silent in terms of such moves so far. Hes overdue some changes come Game 4.
Get Soupy Out of the Doghouse
No one will argue that defenseman Brian Campbell had a strong Game 1, and it was understandable that Soupy saw very limited minutes during the Chicago leg of the Finals. But Campbell is much too valuable to Chicagos puck-possession play to continue to function as the fifth d-man on the depth chart. Brent Sopel has terrific value as a shot-blocker, but too much time for the Iron Giant is an indication the Quenneville is playing too defensively and conservatively. A contingent effect of Soupys reduced minutes is that far too often Sopel and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been paired, neither of whom can do much in terms of advancing the puck and tightening the screws on Philly with puck possession. Such a pairing allows the Flyers, already aggressive and wilding with the dressing the Carcillos of the world, to be that much more aggressivewithout consequence.
Of course the Finals are the consummate chess match, but thats no reason for Quenneville to get all Kasparov on Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who is pretty well known as confident bordering on brash. It wouldnt take too much to exploit Laviolettes confidence, but Cool Hand Q appears to need to not just beat the Flyers, but run a victory lap around them when it comes to line matching.
Nowhere in the series did it hurt the Blackhawks more than in overtime of Game 3, when Kris Versteeg and Tomas Kopecky were both dashing off the ice when the opportunistic switching post-faceoff, turned fatal. In the defensive confusion, Dave Bolland was double-teaming Danny Briere, leaving Duncan Keith frozen and surrounded by three Flyers. The goal that tied the game, by Ville Leinocompletely nullifying Patrick Kanes stunner of a breakaway that gave the Blackhawks their first lead, for 20 secondsalso came as the result of a quick line yanking from Q.
While some Blackhawks admitted a bit of confusion over the frequency (and in some cases, sloppiness) of the line changes after Game 3, Quenneville was all too willing to issue a mea culpa. The bad news for Flyers fans is that the steely mentor is sure to be much more surgical with his bench moves come Friday.
Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.