How’s that for a dramatic turn of events? With the Blackhawks trailing the opening series 2-1 to the Nashville Predators, leading up to game four, Coach Joel Quenneville straddled the line between “playoff adjustments” and “panic.” As the Hawks tightened their stranglehold on the Predators early in the second, it was clear Q was on the right side of the line.
As for his adjustments, Q scratched Ben Eager and Colin Fraser, dismantling the fourth line that played most of the regular season. The fourth line had a strong run during the couple weeks leading up to the playoffs, but were unable to replicate their successes. In their place came Brian Bickell and Adam Burish. Bickell saw time on the first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, while Burish took his rightful place on the fourth line – this time along side center John Madden and winger Troy Brouwer.
Patrick Sharp moved to center to play between the Slovaks; and Bolland, Ladd and Versteeg spent the night together, figuratively speaking.
Of course, on the back end, Brian Campbell made his glorious return well ahead of schedule, which forced Jordan Hendry to the press box. (Hendry still managed two turnovers.)
It’s not hard to see the theory behind the shake-up: the Hawks have run into a deeper team, something of an oddity for them. The Predators have four lines that contribute offensively, and the Hawks’ fourth line of Fraser, Eager and Kopecky did little during the series’ first three games. Adding Bickell and Burish adds a bit of offensive flare to the line-up and allowed Q to spread the scoring a bit. Fighting fire with fire, as they say.
It didn’t take long for the Hawks to exert control. About midway through the first – and fresh from the penalty box himself – Patrick Sharp hammered home a Patrick Kane second chance while standing at the doorstep. Kane’s second chance came off a long rebound from a Duncan Keith point shot.
Then, in a five-minute span during the second, the Hawks pulled away. First, Marian Hossa sent a shot/pass to the net on a 2-on-2 with Toews. While the pass didn’t make it through, an aggressive Toews whacked in the sitting puck for a two-goal lead.
Next, just a few minutes later, Patrick Sharp entered the Predator zone with speed, moving across-ice. In on three men alone, Sharp let a laser beam of a wrister off from about 15 feet inside the blue line, which beat Pekka Rinne with ease. It was Sharp’s second of the game.
The Hawks wouldn’t look back.
Yo, Listen Up!
– Something of a statistical oddity Thursday night: each team had eleven shots in each of the third periods, save the Hawks eight-shot effort in the third.
– After all this time, the unlikely has become fact: Patrick Sharp is a better center than a winger. Who knew? Fresh off a couple lenghty stints at center during the past couple seasons, Sharp – and the fans – seemed eager to get back to wing permanently, but his production and impact slowed. Within ten minutes of being moved back to the middle – albeit on the power play – Sharp tallied his first goal of the playoffs. Late in the second he added his second of a fantastic individual play.
– Brent Sopel is either stupid or crazy, though I suppose he could be both. During Nashville’s first period 5-on-3, Sopel drew the “stand in front of Shea Weber and drop to a knee every time he shoots” card. Naturally, Sopel willingly dropped to a knee while sideways some twenty feet in front of Weber a few times during the kill and lived to tell about it.
– Pat and Eddie were particularly annoying at times yesterday evening. I especially liked the part were Edzo talked about his summertime youth hockey camp for four minutes during play of an NHL playoff game. No truth to the rumor that John is posing as a 15-year old during the first week in July.
– Watching Rinne, who’s generally a “plus” puck-handler, play pucks makes me wonder why the NHL doesn’t allow goalies to play pucks in the corners.
– In Campbell’s first game back, he was generally good in 14 minutes. The odd part was Nashville’s inability to pound the man who had a couple fractures in his shoulder area a few weeks ago. Don’t count on that happening again on Saturday.
– There’s been a Jonathan Toews sighting!
– It sounded like somebody ran over a tennis ball with a Cadillac when a slap shot rang off Jordan Tootoo’s face during the third period. Youch.
– Though the Hawks were outshot 33-30, they seemingly cut the Predator scoring chances in half. I think the Hawks are just beginning to feel the positive impact of not having to play Jordan Hendry 12 minutes a night.
– Hope you didn’t blink during that third period. It was over in a flash.
– Finally, you know what they say about these game fours: it’s usually a good indicator of who will win the series.