The Chicago Blackhawks might be tempted to look back to last spring for inspiration before tonight’s must-win game against the Los Angeles Kings (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
They really only need to go back two days.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to be gained from a refresher course on last year’s second-round comeback against the Detroit Red Wings. The Hawks learned to bury their seething frustration and focus on what they were doing right as they fought back from a 3-1 series deficit and finally reeled in the Wings in a Game 7 thriller. But a sense of accomplishment will go only so far against a tougher, deeper and more dangerous Kings squad.
That’s why focusing on Monday night’s 5-2 loss will be much more instructive. The secret to regaining their footing in this series can be found over and over again in the tape from Game 4, where blown assignments, bad decisions and sloppy play with the puck by their normally steady defensive corps were the norm.
There was Duncan Keith, a Norris Trophy finalist, getting his pocket picked by Anze Kopitar and then failing to react before he could set up Marian Gaborik for the goal that made it 2-0.
There was Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, two big, strapping lads, standing idly by while L.A.’s Justin Williams and Dwight King blocked out the sun in front of Corey Crawford to help create Drew Doughty’s second-period goal.
And then there was Brent Seabrook. The hero of that Game 7 win over Detroit last spring was on the ice for all three of the Kings’ first period goals, always a step too slow in his reads and his coverage. On all three, you can point to his failure to tie up an L.A. attacker as the primary reason that Crawford was fishing a puck out of the net moments later.
Want a fighting chance to get to Game 6. Start there.
“I think there’s been a few mistakes,” Seabrook admitted on Tuesday. “I think the first period was non-characteristic by our team. I have to be better. I was out there for both those [power play] goals. I got to be better in those situations to help out Crow, help out everybody on the ice.”
Coach Joel Quenneville agreed, without pointing out any one offender in particular. “I think the puck is going through us,” he said. “We’re not recognizing the coverage around the net. They have guys that make blind plays. They have great shooters as well. We have to make sure we’re defending around our net better than they are at their net.”
And that’s the key. Forget the feel-good, “we’ve done it before” stuff. If the Blackhawks are going to get off the mat and back into this series, they need to pay attention to detail and commit to better defensive hockey. That means winning battles, having active sticks and making smart decisions with the puck.
And, most important, making the acreage in front of Crawford as inhospitable as possible for anyone in white. The Kings are going to get their tips, screens and rebounds. They’re just that good. But the Hawks have to dig deep and do what it takes to minimize them.
“We’re going to be a desperate hockey team [Wednesday] night,” Seabrook said. “We’ve got to come out, we’ve got to lay everything on the line or else our season’s over. I think we understand that.”
The Hawks have played more like an entitled team than a desperate one so far in this series. We’ll see if they have it in them.