FACEOFF: 9pm Central
TV/RADIO: CSN for the locals, NBCSN for the transplants, WGN Radio
FIGHTING OFF THE MOVING VANS: FIve For Howling
It's time to dance.
We, and you in your head most likely, have dissected this series backwards and forwards, top to bottom, and in ways that have left it a fine paste. Enough of that, let's throw it out there and see what's going to happen.
While I wrote this before the morning skate, by the time you read this it will assuredly have been announced that Jonathan Toews will be in the lineup, centering for Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. I've had this fear while waiting for Tazer's return, that with the Hawks playing so well without him (for the most part) that once he got back there would be this attitude of "ok, now everything's fine." That's not going to work. Toews should only have to add to the level that the Hawks were at, not fill in for where they drop upon his arrival. I don't think the Hawks will let their game fall, but I'm not totally sure either. It would only be natural to assume when a player who would have been a Hart candidate returns to the lineup. If the Hawks can play the same game they did without him, but then have him do what he does even just a little, I think it's going to be a very fun spring.
Other lineup news that sort of floated yesterday was that Sean O'Donnell was going to pair with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the 3rd defensive unit. It's a bit surprising given how much Old Donald struggled with the Predators and this is Nashville Lite, but I don't know that it matters that much for the five to eight minutes he's going to get anyway. With the way Hjalmarsson closed the season, expect the Hawks to just roll with the five D for most of the night.
The Yotes have no such injury concerns, and will be icing the full-strength lineup. You've read about them all week, so you know where the strengths and weaknesses are. Keep Vrbata and Whitney from hurting you (which in Vrbata's case shouldn't be that hard, I figure one or two good Seabrook crunches and that should be that) and this team will struggle to score. Unless Doan turns into Beast, which could happen. But that's still one guy. On the other end, attack Morris and Aucoin with speed and try and put Yandle and and Larsson under immense pressure, Keep them from getting into the play. And after all that, it's just a matter of beating Mike Smith, who's stopped 1258 of 1259 shots lately or something. Drill there is simple. Toews, Hossa, Stalberg, Kruger, Bickell, and Shaw just have to get to the net regularly to take away his eyes and bag loose change. It's the same for any playoff game.
Winning on special teams would help, but I'm not going to hold my breath. What I do want to see, and I've been harping on this for weeks, is the Hawks use the middle of their defensive zone to get out. They've been slightly better about it recently, but could still be better. You better believe Tippett is going to have the Yotes forecheckers slammed against the walls to take away the ring-arounds and wingers waiting on the half-wall. The Hawks have to have a forward circling in the middle for an outlet when things get jammed up in the corner or on the half wall. If they do and they can hit him -- with all the inherent risks -- they can hit the neutral zone and Phoenix line with speed. The last thing this Coyote defense wants to see is Indian head clad forwards charging over the hill like it's Little Big Horn. That's where the Hawks can seriously hurt Phoenix.
The game's been ramping up for the past six weeks. Some things have fallen into place, some things have been added. But now it's time to hit the nitrogen, to find a gear we haven't seen.
Turn it on, all the way up.