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posted: 5/1/2013 9:27 PM

Hawks should come out with purpose in Game 2

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  • Blackhawks defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith defend the goal against Minnesota Wild left wing Jason Zucker after Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was on the ice on the other side of the net Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at the United Center in Chicago.

       Blackhawks defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Duncan Keith defend the goal against Minnesota Wild left wing Jason Zucker after Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford was on the ice on the other side of the net Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series at the United Center in Chicago.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

If this seems a familiar refrain for Blackhawks fans, well, it's because it is.

"I think when we play (the Wild), that's the area (the slot) they defend well," said coach Joel Quenneville. "We might have been a little bit too much on the outside.

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"We gotta put more pucks and more traffic at the net, and even though we got some zone time, we weren't getting anything out of it. It's tough to penetrate that slot and pretty goals might be tough to come by."

The Hawks obviously possess a great deal of skill, but this is the playoffs and going 1-on-3 or 1-on-4 isn't going to work very often this time of the year.

Marian Hossa (6) and Patrick Kane (4) combined for as many attempted shots blocked as the entire Minnesota team, which blocked 21 shots to 10 for the Hawks.

Of the six teams playing Tuesday, only defensemen Drew Doughty (L.A.) and Jay Bouwmeester (St. Louis) had as many as 4 shots blocked.

"The kind of game the (Wild) play. That's their strength. They keep you to the outside and block a lot of shots," said Viktor Stalberg. "They're not going to give you much, so you have to get the puck to the net and look for rebounds.

"We might have tried to make the pretty play a few times. I'm sure that's something we'll talk about in here and make some adjustments."

Game 1 was reminiscent of the entire Phoenix series a year ago -- minus the brutal physical beating the Hawks took for six games. Tuesday night, the Hawks were going offside at the blue line with regularity, as the Wild stepped up into their rush.

No one was more frustrated than Kane with the Minnesota tactics, but the answer is simple. If they're blocking your shots or standing up at the blue line, get pucks deep and make their defense pay in the corners.

Against Phoenix, the Hawks were very slow to change their game as the Coyotes built a wall five across inside the blue line and the Hawks didn't adjust until Game 6, when they carried the play for two periods and just couldn't break through Mike Smith.

Quenneville can't let that happen again. The Hawks will probably come out in Game 2 and play more beneath the circles, looking for turnovers and bad angle shots and rebounds.

The Hawks had the better of the play after the first period Tuesday and dominated zone time with little to show for it, but that will change Friday night. The Hawks just have too much skill for Minnesota, and if they show some patience at both ends of the ice, this series shouldn't be too difficult.

"I think they had a good plan and we have to tinker with some things to get better," said Bryan Bickell. "But it's going to be a good series."

It will be a good series with a lot of close games, but it should still be a short series.

Corey Crawford is on top of his game, and the Hawks' defense had great balance with minutes played. While Ryan Suter had to log 41:08 and partner Jonas Brodin 34:20, Michal Rozsival (27:11) and Johnny Oduya (26:47) led the Hawks.

In the past, it would have been Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook at close to 40 minutes, but Tuesday they both played 25 minutes, and Nick Leddy and Niklas Hjalmarsson were at 22.

That's going to pay dividends in the later rounds if Quenneville can continue to manage minutes in that fashion and maintain confidence in all three pairs in any situation.

And the fact that they got the winning goal from their third line also is huge. A key coming in was secondary scoring, and they've already gotten a very big goal from the combination of Bickell and Stalberg, two guys who must perform for this to work in 2013.

Still, the Hawks will need their superstars to play like superstars, and if Kane is already frustrated, wait until the likes of Anaheim, St. Louis and Vancouver start throwing their weight around and make Kane a constant target. They can't afford to have him taking shifts off if things aren't going his way.

The Hawks came out tight and emotionally unprepared for a tight-checking, low-scoring playoff game. Quenneville suggested the Hawks might have been reading a few too many press clippings, but the guess here is they won't make that mistake again and will be ready to play Friday from puck drop.

That's crucial because the fewer games they have to play now, the more they'll have in the tank later.

And they're going to need it.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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