CHICAGO -- With a critical Game 5 approaching in the Stanley Cup finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins every little issue becomes important. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville often says every game is different, but after a wild 6-5 overtime win by the Hawks in Game 4 it’s anyone’s guess where this 2-2 series goes. What will carry over from Wednesday’s affair? With that in mind, here are 5 things to look for (plus one more) in Game 5, Saturday night at the United Center:
The Hawks found offensive success by attacking the net more no matter who was on the ice for the Bruins. Jonathan Toews expressed as much in the days after Game 4. Sustaining that at home should be easier to accomplish with the right work ethic considering any match-up concerns now favor the Hawks.
Did they really figure something out against Zdeno Chara or was that a fluke?
“It's not going to be like last game,” Dave Bolland predicted Saturday morning. “He's going to be looking to play a different game, change things around. We're going to have to be aware of him.”
Another key was the Hawks blue-line activating the offense and more importantly being a part of it. Michal Rozsival may have been one of the most important players on the ice as his shots led to two goals, establishing the Hawks lead for most of the night. Skating with the puck and pinching at the right time while helping on offense is a Hawks strength from the back-end. Expect it to continue.
Everyone’s eye will be on Corey Crawford’s glove on his left hand. Were his issues a one game aberration or something that might crop up again? If the worst case scenario happens, and Crawford gives up some early goals, there’s nothing to say Quenneville can’t go to Ray Emery. It’s not as likely of an option for Boston if the same struggles occur to Tuukka Rask because they don’t have a back-up who went 17-1. It’s doubtful Emery gets in there but it’s not a stretch to believe Crawford’s leash became a little shorter after Game 4.
Winning in the circle
Face-offs became an issue after the Hawks lost 71 percent of them in Game 3, but they reversed that trend in Game 4 coming out on top of about half of them. It had a big impact.
“I think it played a part early on in the game,” Quenneville said Saturday morning. “I thought we were much more effective than in the prior game. They got better as the game went on. I just think starting with the puck is key. I think having it against this team is important.”
The proof is in the results. The Hawks played a life-less Game 3 on offense when wining just 29 percent of the draws – and got shutout. Winning 38 of 77 face-offs made a big difference and it’s not a coincidence the Hawks scored more in Game 4, partly because of that improvement.
An X-factor line for Hawks
For a 6-5 final score in Game 3, the Hawks third line of Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stalberg and Brandon Saad had a quiet night. They combined for an even, plus/minus game, with their lone point coming on Saad’s short-handed assist to open the scoring. Collectively, they say they were happy with their defense in an open game but would like to be more noticeable on the offensive end. They combined for three shots on net.
“I like to get those chances,” Stalberg said of a bull rush around a slower defenseman. “The way they play, they play pretty structured. They come back five guys hard. The way to beat them is to keep longer cycles in their end, they have bigger guys that get tired, maybe. Longer puck possessions are key.”
Added Shaw: “Defensively we’ve been pretty good but we do need to create a few more offensive chances going into Game 5 here.”
Most observers felt the playing surface in Game 4 in Boston was better than in Game 3. Coincidentally, or not, the Hawks went from being shutout to scoring six goals. There’s little doubt a smoother surface benefits the speedy Hawks against most opponents – including the Bruins.
“I thought the ice was fine today,” Quenneville said. “It's kind of one of those days with the humidity and it will be a little warmer out there today. But the building and the playoffs have been fine, the ice has been fine. We talked about that going into that game against Detroit with the Stones (Rolling Stones), and I think everybody had no problem with the ice. I think sometimes late in periods you've got to know that it gets a little bit worn out in both buildings, and you've got to be smart in those areas.”
Still, things could be different at game time and a fast surface can only help the Hawks – not hurt them.
Marian Hossa will play and can only be feeling better after two days off the ice. He didn’t take the morning practice on Saturday so he hasn’t been on skates since the end of Game 4 late on Wednesday. Quenneville says he’ll be better in Game 5 as any boost from Hossa is a huge boost for the Hawks.