The good thing about the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks in Game 1 is that the team didn't actually play poorly. Other than a few pivotal miscues, primarily stemming from the changes on the blue line, it was the kind of effort that will give the Hawks a chance to win every night.
It wasn't enough to earn a victory Sunday afternoon, though, and Joel Quenneville's team is surely figuring out how to adjust its strategy for Game 2. The Ducks have shown they're not going to lay down in front of Chicago's attack, can take advantage of offensive opportunities and have a goaltender on his game. The Hawks didn't play poorly in the series opener, but at some point they're going to have to take it to another level to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Where Game 1 felt like a good start, Game 2 will hopefully be when the Hawks begin figuring out their opponent. With that in mind, here are a few tweaks they might make to ease the process.
Cumiskey for Rundblad
The most obvious change is one that the coaching staff is already considering. Kyle Cumiskey practiced with the top six defensemen Monday, and afterwards, Quenneville said the veteran "could play" over Rundblad on Tuesday night. In Q speak, that makes it sound more likely than not that Cumiskey will get nod.
This isn't a game-changing move, or at least it shouldn't be, but Rundblad was often a mess in his own end during his playoff debut. There are myriad excuses one could make, from his extended time off to the pressure of facing a top-seeded team on the road in a playoff game. His mistakes weren't even the most egregious. They weren't the kinds of plays a championship team needs from one of its key contributors, though, and Quenneville may not want to waste any time letting Rundblad work through his issues.
I still think Rundblad has legit NHL talent, and in the right system he could thrive as an offensive-minded defensemen with his booming shot. The defensive miscues at this stage of the playoffs are unacceptable, however, and Cumiskey has shown in the past that he's a more steady, if less ambitious, option. Another small factor in Cumiskey's favor is his experience, as he appeared in the playoffs back in 2010 with the Colorado Avalanche.
One stark difference between the Blackhawks and Ducks in Game 1 was how the two teams protected their goaltenders. Frederik Andersen would often have several teammates buzzing around him as he corralled in the puck, and it seemed to have a calming effect on the 25-year-old, who looked pretty dang confident by the final buzzer.
Corey Crawford, on the other hand, had significant issues with rebounds in the opener, and that was partially because of the pressure the Ducks were able to exert in front of the net. Anaheim's first goal came after Rundblad got crosschecked right in front of Crawford, taking away his best view of the play, and the third goal came off a rebound that had already eluded one Anaheim player's stick.
It was clear the Ducks had a strategy in Game 1 involving aggressive, physical play in front of the net to wear down Chicago's defensemen, and to some degree, it worked. The Hawks will need to respond in kind Tuesday night, getting a better net presence in front of Andersen while doing a better job of giving Crawford the space he needs to do his thing.
This is actually something Michal Rozsival really helped with on the defensive end, since he was a big body willing and capable of making those plays. Rundblad has the size but doesn't seem to have the spatial awareness and hockey I.Q. to thrive there yet. Cumiskey, who isn't as big as those two, will have to try to make a difference there.
Then again, getting a net presence is always easier said than done. The Ducks' blue line is loaded with big players, from Simon Despres (6'4, 214) to Hampus Lindholm (6'3, 205). Anaheim's six defensemen average weighing 205 pounds. Chicago's six defensemen average weighing 195 pounds (largely because Brent Seabrook is massive). Size is often a disadvantage for the speedy Hawks but it's especially noticeable in this series.
Teuvo on the PP
Quenneville has suggested he might double shift Patrick Kane during power plays, to which the collective response was largely, "What about Teuvo Teravainen?"
The 21-year-old Finnish winger has looked the true part of a dynamic young scorer during his first few months with the team, and could be just what the Blackhawks need to get a dormant power play going. It was almost bizarre watching how Chicago's early momentum dissipated during a power play in Game 1, and Teuvo is the kind of player who can quickly create something out of nothing with his stick handling and superlative vision.
So why not see why the kid can do with the man advantage, where the extra space afforded would allow him to attack from different angles and create opportunities for others? One of Chicago's best chances in the opener came off an awesome pass from the boards by Teravainen that set up a shot in the slot for Patrick Sharp. That kind of quick, accurate passing could really help the Hawks on the power play.
It seems like Chicago is determined to use groupings that will allow the team to get a steady net presence, but so far, that hasn't really worked. Instead of pushing Kane to the limit to try to create something, let the guy save a little more for 5-on-5 and see what Teravainen can do. The team will have to start depending on him eventually, so why not try now?
Don't change too much
All the talk of adjustments ignores everything Chicago did well in Game 1. The team had the advantage in shots and dominated Corsi, something that usually leads to positive results for this group over the course of a seven-game series. Andersen was playing on his head at times in the opener, and while this postseason may be a coming out party of sorts for him, he spent an entire regular season playing at a level below this. It's still more likely than not we see that Andersen at some point in this series.
And while I don't want to scapegoat Rundblad for the loss, his presence on the blue line clearly messed up what had been a good thing in the Minnesota series. It's not really his fault -- the team was asking a lot of him -- but he simply didn't get the job done and in a close series, even one guy struggling becomes a glaring issue. So replacing him with Cumiskey figures to solve a lot of problems, assuming he can be steady in his own end, and eventually those offensive chances will start going in.
History may not be on the team's side entering Game 2, but the Blackhawks will be just fine if they can get a win and return to Chicago with a 1-1 tie in hand. As long as the team can repeat its opening performance with a few proper adjustments, don't be surprised if that's exactly what happens.