Rozner: Blackhawks only as good as their next period

  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) and teammate Adam Boqvist (27) celebrate the team's win over the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL hockey playoff game in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020.

    Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford (50) and teammate Adam Boqvist (27) celebrate the team's win over the Edmonton Oilers during an NHL hockey playoff game in Edmonton, Alberta, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. The Canadian Press via AP

 
 
Updated 8/2/2020 6:00 PM

It was June of 2015 that the Blackhawks last had the lead in a playoff series.

So you'll forgive those who don't remember the feeling.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Just for review, the Hawks won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Tampa, before losing two straight. Had they not captured Game 4 at home to tie the series, they would have been heading back to Florida down 3-1 and facing elimination.

Instead, the Hawks won three straight and captured their third Cup in six seasons in Game 6 at home. But that's how quickly these series can change. And if that sounds like a warning, it is.

The psychology of a playoff series is fascinating, if you're into such things, and the speed with which the emotion flips is staggering.

So while the Hawks took apart the Oilers in Game 1 Saturday in the Edmonton Bubble, that victory is only as good as the Hawks' start in Game 2 late Monday night, when the Oilers are certain to be skating from the outset.

"Edmonton is going to be very desperate," said Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton, "and we need to be better."

As we sit here three periods into the series, the Hawks feel very good about themselves, knowing they have the better goaltender and that Corey Crawford is likely to improve with reps.

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It was not a surprise that Edmonton had goaltending issues in Game 1 since it was a problem all season and was easy to forecast. What was surprising was how ineffective Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl were in 5-on-5 until the game was out of reach.

In that regard, you can be sure the Oilers' big guns are feeling the pressure and will come out flying Monday night, meaning the Hawks will have to withstand the barrage.

The best way to do that is precisely what they did Saturday, which was outwork the Oilers' top players in the Edmonton zone. The Hawks were hard on the puck, won battles and kept possession, forcing two of the best players in the world to play defense and chase the puck.

The Hawks have to continue to be that aggressive through the neutral zone and in the offensive end if they want to win this series, a lesson Colliton will certainly be preaching to the youngest roster in the playoffs.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"We have some young players with their first experience in an NHL playoff environment and there's going to be a learning curve," Colliton said. "But I thought overall our young players did a great job and got better as the game went on.

"Right from the beginning, you could see that our intention to do the right thing was good."

Colliton has stressed this since the start of the 2019-20 season, to get the Hawks to play the right way and be responsible with the puck -- and on the puck. It's not always the most fun, but it is a way to win hockey games.

Know what else is fun? Winning is fun.

"We weren't perfect (Saturday), but I thought we responded well when they challenged us," Colliton said. "Going forward, those young guys are going to get better and better. We have to keep reminding them of the things we need to do to have success."

The Hawks will have to be diligent from puck drop Monday because all it takes is the Oilers winning Game 2 to dramatically shift the emotion and the pressure of the series.

Right now, it's all on the Oilers. McDavid and Draisaitl have to perform and they'll be feeling it going into Game 2. At the moment, the Oilers have to win three of four, but a 1-1 tie puts them right back into the favorite's role.

Edmonton knows of the Hawks' pedigree and has precious little playoff experience, but the doubts will shift to the other side with a victory.

And with the games being called tight so far, the best thing the Hawks can do is stay out of the box because the Edmonton power play is frightening.

If they can do that, and play as hard as they did Saturday along the boards, and get a little something from Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, they'll be up 2-0.

Assuming the Hawks are ready to go from the start in Game 2, they could make this a short series indeed. If they are slow to get moving, buckle up.

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