CHICAGO -- Amid a goalie-getting-run controversy and two overtime thrillers, the scene for the Chicago Blackhawks-Phoenix Coyotes quarterfinal playoff series, tied at 1-1, shifts to the United Center for Games 3 and 4 starting on Tuesday.
For the Hawks, it’s their first home playoff contest since Game 6 last season against the Vancouver Canucks. That one ended in overtime as did the next three Hawks’ playoff games. Seeing a trend here?
“They’ll probably be the loudest of the year,” goalie Corey Crawford predicted of the crowd on Tuesday night. “We love playing in front of our fans.”
Who on the Hawks wouldn’t? They were 27-8-6 at home this season and sold out every game while Phoenix was a respectable 20-14-7 on the road.
“Playoff hockey is a little different beast,” winger Andrew Brunette said. “After the first five, 10 minutes it feels like you’re in an old barn [arena]. You don’t really feel the home-ice advantage or home-ice disadvantage being on the road. Each team in the playoffs… there is a reason they’re in the playoffs. They’ve played well on the road.”
Brunette will take center stage once again as he did for a lot of Game 2, and plenty of games during the regular season. He’s back in the top 6 of forwards, playing with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane again.
“It takes a few shifts to get back into the mojo,” Brunette said of being put back on their line mid-game. “I haven’t played with them in a little bit… trying to get them the puck. [They are] two of the premier players in the league and they both want the puck. You have to find a way for them to get the puck and let them do what they do best.”
That trio will battle Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Viktor Stalberg for top line honors. Marcus Kruger is the odd man out of the top forwards and he will center the fourth line with Jamal Mayers and Brandon Bollig. That leaves Dave Bolland to center Game 2 hero Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw -- if Shaw isn’t suspended for his hit on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith.
If Shaw misses time or there’s an injury Joel Quenneville could always call upon one of six players the team brought up as reinforcements on Monday. The most intriguing of the group is certainly 19-year-old Brandon Saad.
You’ll recall Saad was a second-round pick this past June and beat out two first-round picks as well as some other seasoned professionals to make the opening-night roster. But the Hawks elected to send him back to his juniors team, the Saginaw Spirit, after just two games. He was a man among boys there, averaging a league best 1.73 points per game. He also has an NHL-ready body. With the conclusion of the Spirit’s season over the weekend, Saad became eligible to be recalled. It’s no surprise the Hawks jumped at the chance. He’s a big-time prospect.
Could Saad actually play in this postseason? He wouldn’t be here if it at least wasn’t a possibility. After all, those two first-round picks, Mark McNeill and Phillip Danault aren’t here, but Saad is. Usually these postseason call-ups are here to get their feet wet, but Saad might be too enticing a prospect to sit and watch. Quenneville should reveal his chances of playing in a game after practice on Tuesday. Stay tuned.
“They’re pretty quick and shifty at the blue line. We have to focus on staying in front of those guys. [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson and [Keith] Yandle are so quick at faking and going the other way.” -- Crawford, on trying to block shots by the Coyotes’ top defensemen.
“If something needs to be addressed, that’s what I’m here for.”-- Bollig, on the idea that Phoenix will exact retribution on Shaw next time he plays.
“We want to take advantage of the building, the noise, the crowd. But let’s make sure that we’re not looking to outscore this team. We have to have patience to be effective against them. -- Quenneville, on playing at home on Tuesday.