Rozner: Playing small and cute won't get the Blackhawks far in the postseason

  • The Blackhawks leave the ice Monday as Predators fans cheer after Nashville beat the Hawks 5-2 on home ice.

    The Blackhawks leave the ice Monday as Predators fans cheer after Nashville beat the Hawks 5-2 on home ice. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 4/20/2021 5:43 PM

The Blackhawks didn't play a bad game Monday night in Nashville.

At least, compared to some other efforts of the last few weeks, this wasn't a bad one. It just wasn't good enough for a team that has little margin for error.

 

They also got some bad breaks, like losing another defenseman to injury, a defenseman getting his helmet ripped off and having to leave the ice, and another blowing a tire.

The last two of those cost the Hawks a pair of goals and ultimately the game.

But this one had a lot to do with the offense and the way the Hawks play against Nashville, which is now 6-0-0 against the Hawks this season and has allowed only 8 goals in those games.

It's not an accident.

Too many Hawks forwards like to play small and cute, and that's exciting in meaningless games against bad teams. Small and cute gets you lots of highlights.

But small and cute doesn't get you far in the postseason -- unless there is some big and ugly doing the hard work -- and these matches with the Preds are essentially playoff games right now.

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They are tight-checking, clog-the-middle, stuff-the-neutral-zone games where there's not a lot of room, where you can't throw your stick on the ice and expect the opponent to usher you to the net.

Most of the Hawks understand this and did a decent job of getting pucks deep and behind the Nashville defense, forcing them to turn quickly and into mistakes.

They're not going to let you play a pretty game, and the more you try, the more they frustrate the opposition. Dump-and-chase doesn't get you on the highlights, but it's how you have to play against the biggest and toughest teams.

Of course, the dump is no good without the chase, without the retrieval, and the Hawks' best shifts Monday were precisely that, pucks beneath the goal line and a heavy forecheck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

This is hard work and not as much fun as a 3-on-1, but the Preds don't give you a whole bunch of those.

"We had a lot of good zone time, trying to get pucks to the net, but they blocked a lot of shots and we have to find a way to get it through," said Alex DeBrincat, who plays bigger than he is and isn't afraid of the dirty work. "We had one goal where we kept hammering away and eventually it went in.

"We have to get more goals like that, more bodies to the net."

With two more against Nashville before the final eight against Tampa, Florida, Carolina and Dallas, the Hawks need to win these two in regulation if they want to continue talking about postseason hockey.

"For us to win these games, we have to be near our top level," said head coach Jeremy Colliton. "It's big challenge for us, it's a great challenge for us, and we have to rise to it.

"We showed what it should look like to give ourselves a chance to beat that team and we're going to need to bring that next time out. A lot of guys were good, but we still need a couple more to sustain it for the full 60."

The Hawks have to get bigger and some trades over the last year have displayed a desire to do just that, a little bit at a time. But it's more than just size.

It's about how much players want to do the difficult things against stingy teams that won't allow for wide-open play. It's about how much you care -- and no one can make you care, not coaches or anyone else.

Teams that win do many different things well and the Hawks are searching now for the different avenues they can take to get there, the different ways they must play against different styles.

The idea is to have a versatile enough roster that you can manage a game against a specific opponent with a style that works in that game.

You also have to have players willing to adjust.

The next two games will tell you a much about where they are in that process.

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