- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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CHICAGO -- Anyone who doesn’t believe matchups and systems help dictate outcomes of NHL games, regardless of talent, hasn’t watched the Chicago Blackhawks this season.
Sunday night’s 2-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning was another example of a team and system which frustrates the Hawks. If they can’t skate, they usually don’t win.
“They definitely played a more passive system,” Chris Campoli said. “They pretty much had five guys back in the neutral zone. They seem to be satisfied with the one goal they got.”
The Lightning scored early and then sat back and watched the Hawks try to get through their neutral-zone “wall.” The Hawks figured it out as the game went along, but the scoring chances still weren’t good enough.
“You have to be strong on the boards, you have to get loose pucks,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said about cracking the Lightning. “You have to be tenacious to come up with second- and third-effort type battles. It can lead to offense and then you have to get to the front of the net.”
Playing the day before only solidified Tampa Bay’s desire to stall after going up one goal. The Lightning took fatigue out of the equation as soon as they could.
“We had energy for the first period, but I knew already at the end of the first our juice started to go down real fast, and the beginning of the second period, ‘Whoa’,” Tampa coach Guy Boucher said.
Jonathan Toews gave a peek into his mindset regarding the Hawks’ inability to win against certain styles. It’s rare to look ahead without a postseason berth locked up, but Toews was trying to make a point.
“Every single game is important,” he said. “It’s not about points. We want to prepare ourselves to be a team that goes beyond the first round. Once you get to the playoffs anything can happen but you have to be prepared for it. ”
And that means being prepared for any system or matchup. Right now, the Hawks aren’t there. If a team lets them skate for 60 minutes they can beat anyone. But if there is a slowdown or a Tampa Bay-like “trap”, the Hawks are in trouble.
One way to solve the problem is simply to raise the intensity and urgency level. Most Hawks agreed it wasn’t quite high enough on Sunday.
“At times [it was] but we can still raise a level,” Campoli said. “A 2-0 loss isn’t good enough.”
His coach agreed, summing up the reality of the situation.
“We need more,” Quenneville said. “It’s all got to come out with four games left. We’re looking for more.”
The slowdown mode used by Tampa has tripped up the Hawks all season.