Going into Thursday night's game four, there were numerous questions swirling around Blackhawks Nation. Would Brian Campbell play? Would the Hawks respond in what was for all intents and purposes a must-win situation? Would the Hawks match the Predators effort level? And would the Hawks best players make themselves noticeable during the game?
The answer to all of these questions was a pretty emphatic "yes".
Brian Campbell played (albeit with severely limited minutes), and the Hawks showed the same level of desire from Jump St. as the Preds, which resulted in the names that we're supposed to see scattered all about the scoresheet present. Patrick Sharp opened the scoring with a power play put-back in the first, Jonathan Toews harpooned a Marian Hossa centering feed in the second, and Sharp would bookend the scoring with a wicked wrister from the high slot that was blown by Rinne. At the other end, Antti Niemi made it stand up with his second shutout of the post season. Some thoughts -
- While the attempts to clear their own zone are still leaving a lot to be desired, we finally got what we were looking for in a north-south game through the neutral zone, and board presence in the Nashville zone, and Toews's goal from Hossa was a direct result of that. While we cheered derisively when it happened, even Kris Versteeg was on board dumping the puck in and going to get it, and it could probably be counted on one hand the number of times things got too cute in neutral ice at the Nashville blue line. This is exactly the way this needs to continue.
- At the other end of the ice, the breakouts and clearing attempts are still being snuffed out, and there's a couple reasons for this. One - the wingers are once again drifting up near the blue line waiting for the initial pass. I don't know how many fucking times it needs to be said, but get your asses on the wall and at the hash marks to close that gap. The smaller that gap, the less room there is for a Nashville stick to get in the passing lane. Additionally, the defensemen need to not force the play toward the wingers. Take a hit if need be, take a stride, and take a look. Just throwing it up the boards has resulted in what we've seen so far- this certainly isn't the first time the Hawks have faced a dogged forecheck.
- While we're on the subject of defensemen...Soupy looked fine, if just a little (understandably) tentative in his return well ahead of schedule. He seemed to take his few bumps with Nashville forwards, as well as their seamless glass that has zero give well. He even pinched a couple times, but we'll know he's fully back when he breaks out his first ill-advised spin-o-rama. However, Duncan Keith has seemingly reverted to his 2009-post-concussion decision-making process, as shown by his giveaway that nearly ended up in the back of the Hawk net attempting a home run pass. This could very well be a case of Keith attempting to do too much come playoff time. Keep it simple, Duncs.
- In other lineup transplant news, Adam Burish provided the energy he was supposed to, and Bryan Bickell was servicable. While Burish's game is severely limited in a lot of areas, it's pretty clear that it's tailor-made for the post season, assuming he can keep himself out of the box.
- Antti Niemi was rarely seriously tested, and if Nashville actually had 33 shots on net last night, then I'm demure, well-groomed, and preternaturally hung.
- Whether Patrick Sharp likes it or not, he's the team's #2 center. There are far bigger indignities than centering Marian Hossa, however. "Face it Happy, YOU ARE A GOLFER".
- There cannot be any come-down from this effort on Saturday afternoon, particularly from the Captain, in what will be the biggest game of the season to this point. Toews was once again strong on the puck and strong against the wall last night, and it's clear the Hawks need that. It's been a pretty simple equation all season long- as Toews goes, so go the Hawks. Keep it coming, Jonny.
- Thank you once again to the truly wonderful Maria and Sergio at The Whirlaway for allowing us to be foul, weird, and drunk in their establishment.