Friday, April 13, 2012
Hawks can handle a one-game deficit
By Jesse Rogers
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Two themes emerged from the Chicago Blackhawks dressing room as they turned the page on their Game 1, 3-2 overtime loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night: “We’ve been here before” and “Let’s take care of that puck.”
The first theme applies because the Hawks have now lost the first game of their opening-round series three years in a row. We know what happened in each of the two previous years: The Hawks went on to win the Stanley Cup in 2010 after losing to the Nashville Predators in Game 1, but a year later they dug a bigger hole against the Vancouver Canucks, dropping two more games before a furious series comeback fell just short.
A one-game deficit in an opening-round series is nothing new for the Blackhawks.
“The good thing is we’re not down 3-0, it’s only 1-0,” Patrick Kane half-joked after an optional practice session on Friday. “I think we’re in a better situation now. We can come out and get a win and even up the series.”
Maybe they’re in a better situation because they know what to expect. There is no reason to fret being down just one game.
“For a lot of us, no one really expected to sweep the series,” Kane said. “It’s one game, no need to panic.”
But in a best-of-seven situation you’re only a day or two away from really being in trouble. That’s where fixing the mistakes from Game 1 come in. They’re just some little things -- and that’s another reason there is no panic. This is a tweak, not an overhaul.
“They are the type of team we’ve seen all year,” Jonathan Toews said. “We hung in there despite not playing our best game. A few little things we can improve on that for us can make a huge difference. It’s not fun to lose Game 1 but we have a long ways to go.
“Look at the first round last year, we went down 3-0. As bad as things can look sometimes, that experience in this locker room is going to keep reminding us to keep things on an even keel, not to get too down about the loss.”
The Coyotes are a “counter-punching team” as defenseman Sean O'Donnell put it before the series began. They jump on turnovers and make their opponents pay. O’Donnell and Niklas Hjalmarsson were in the middle of one sequence on Thursday that led to the tying goal and a huge change in momentum. It came after Hjalmarsson -- you guessed it -- turned the puck over when failing to clear. It made for a long shift.
“When you get tired it affects your decision-making a little bit,” he said Friday. “That’s how it is, you just have to try and make the right decision when you’re tired. It’s not just turnovers. We can do other things better, but we have to cut down on the turnovers too.”
Phoenix simply did the little things better in Game 1. They changed on the fly more efficiently and were less careless with the puck. It may have been the difference in the game.
“They’re a patient team,” Andrew Shaw said. “We have to be patient as well. Take the opportunities that are given to us.”
That sounds like coach-speak, and after meetings with the team, Joel Quenneville had one simple instruction: “The onus is on the puck carrier to be responsible.”
Luckily for the players there was more than one culprit in Game 1 so no one has to be singled out, but Hjalmarsson is a veteran entering his prime. He needs to be better in this department and he usually is. In fact, more often than not, Hjalmarsson takes the safe play instead of the riskier one, which wasn’t necessarily the case on Thursday. But again, he wasn’t the only one.
“In second periods we need to be smart there,” Duncan Keith said. “Sometimes it’s tough to get the [shift] change. That’s where we really have to be smart with turnovers and getting pucks in deep so we can get changes.”
Keith is referring to how it’s impossible to change on the fly in the second period due to the distance between the Hawks’ bench and their defensive zone, hence five players experiencing a shift that lasted over 90 seconds in Game 1.
At least the mistakes the Hawks made weren’t a microcosm of their season. Turnovers and bad changes aren’t something that happened too often during the regular season. They can chalk it up to some isolated bad plays -- if they feel it won’t happen again.
“Limit the turnovers is the biggest thing,” Kane said. “Play a more simple game.”