Rozner: Blackhawks' depth will be tested against Vegas
With the Blackhawks down a goal late in Game 3 and on the verge of trailing Edmonton in the play-in series, Jeremy Colliton had his best moment as head coach.
With about 6 minutes to play and the Hawks' top players having squandered numerous scoring chances and power-play opportunities, Colliton sent out his fourth line.
Many watching their TVs probably shook their heads, wondering where the snipers were at such a crucial moment, but with the season on the brink Colliton trusted his players.
That was a turning point not only in the series, as Matthew Highmore tipped in a Slater Koekkoek shot to tie the game, but perhaps also in the coach's faith in his role players.
And he will need that faith -- and those players -- if the Hawks are to have a chance against top-seeded Vegas.
"It was the case last series that we needed everyone going to give ourselves a chance for success and we know it's going to be more of the same (against Vegas)," Colliton said. "They have a lot of depth and we need the full group every night, being ready for puck drop.
"If we do that I feel like we have a chance to compete, but -- again -- we need everyone going."
The Hawks must have all four lines contributing against a Vegas team that is very deep up front and can play it any way you want, be it fast, tight or heavy.
Against Edmonton, the Hawks didn't get much from Alex DeBrincat, while Dylan Strome was invisible and Alex Nylander was, well, Alex Nylander.
Assuming Patrick Kane continues to play with Kirby Dach and DeBrincat, the Hawks might get nothing again from their third line and have to hope Highmore, Ryan Carpenter and David Kampf can chip in.
The Hawks' defense was exposed repeatedly against Edmonton, but the same can be said for Vegas, which is not great at defending its third of the ice and relies heavy on goaltenders Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury.
"We have two world-class goalies," said Knights defenseman Shea Theodore. "Two very different styles, but we're confident with (Lehner) back there. He's solid and makes a lot of big saves for us."
The Hawks must get pucks behind the Vegas defense, pressure them to retrieve and turn, and find ways to get into the blue paint, forcing Vegas to defend in tight. The Hawks passed up too many shots against the Oilers, especially Dach, and they won't get away with that against Vegas.
The No. 8 seed, already deep into playoff hockey, has to hope Vegas isn't clicking on all cylinders yet after the round robin, which saw some teams sleep through their games. The Knights, however, won all three games and a tough one over Colorado to clinch the top seed Saturday.
"My concern coming in was whether we would play intense games that would prepare us for the first round," said Vegas coach Pete DeBoer. "The format has made these games intense. That was a playoff game out there (against the Avalanche)."
If Vegas is ready to go, this could be a short series, but if the Hawks can stay out of the box and stop allowing early goals, playing responsibly the way Colliton has repeatedly asked, they could make this an interesting and long series.
The Hawks could win a shootout with Edmonton because the Oilers' lacked the depth and goaltending, but Vegas has both the goaltending -- assuming Lehner plays -- and the four-line depth that would make track meets a bad idea.
They will also have to keep the defense active and on the attack, which was very effective against Edmonton, keeping the Oilers pinned for long stretches and helping the offense create chances.
The Hawks had some very good periods against Edmonton, but didn't come close to a 60-minute effort. They'll need that against Vegas.
On paper this is a mismatch, but if the Hawks play smart, if their big guns get hot and if Corey Crawford finds another level to his game, they do have a chance, albeit against a team that has owned them since entering the league with an 8-1-0 record.
Still, it's the playoffs. All it takes is Vegas failing to show up for Game 1 and the Hawks using their heads.
If that happens, you've got yourself a series.