The Blackhawks’ saving grace after a disappointing 2-1 home-ice loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference final is the same as it always is — they’ve been here before.
For the third time in the postseason, they played their most ragged and worst game of a playoff series immediately after a marathon overtime victory. The previous losses were even more decisive — they lost 6-2 to Nashville in Game 2 after a double-overtime victory in Game 1; they lost 5-2 to the Predators in Game 5 after a triple-overtime victory in Game 4.
And after each of those losses, the Hawks responded with much-improved, fresher efforts and a victory. That history doesn’t guarantee them a victory in Game 4 on Saturday night against a Ducks team that clearly is a step up in class from the Predators and Wild. But it’s a big reason why there wasn’t a hint of panic in the Hawks locker room with the team needing a victory in Game 4 to avoid a 3-1 hole with two games remaining at the Honda Center.
“We want to play every game like it’s a must-win, but it’s easy to find that motivation when you’re down in a series — especially since [Game 4] is a big game at home,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We know what’s at stake. We’ll just play as hard as we can and we’re confident we’ll start getting the bounces if we keep doing the right things in their zone and around their net.”
The Hawks have some issues to work out prior to Game 4. Coach Joel Quenneville’s lineup changes —Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom in and Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen out —did not give him the spark he was looking for. In fact, moving Andrew Shaw from fourth-line winger to third-line center altered the obvious chemistry of a productive fourth line with Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger.
It happens a lot. We’re used to it,” Patrick Sharp said. “We trust [Quenneville] behind the bench to mix and match players however he feels. We’ve got a deep team. We’ve got a number of guys that can step in and play. It’s not an excuse at all.”
And the Hawks’ power play was an obvious culprit in the Game 4 loss — the Hawks were 0-for-5 with officially one shot on goal, including 0-for-4 in the first period. Not only was the power play unproductive, it was ineffective — rarely putting any pressure on the Ducks that creates the momentum that can lead to even-strength goals.
“We had some success [in Game 2] —put us in a spot to win the game,” Quenneville said referring to two power-play goals that gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead in their 3-2 triple-overtime victory on Tuesday night at the Honda Center. “[Thursday night] we had several good opportunities, but didn’t have the good looks we had last game.”
Quenneville figures to tweak his lineup, if not the power play to rectify those issues. But the biggest factor for the Hawks — based on their history — is rest. Though, as Brent Seabrook said, “both teams were in the same boat,” the Hawks seem to be more affected by not only the wear-and-tear of a marathon game and the quick turnaround, but also the ragged play that inevitably ensues in those situations.
When both teams are fresher, the Hawks seem to be better.
“I would expect a faster pace [in Game 4],” Quenneville said. “The pace … wasn’t as fast or as quick as the first two games. But there’s reasons for that.”