Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, TVA
From Her Lips To God’s Ears: Raw Charge
With the series shifting north to the United Center for games 3 and 4, both the Hawks and the Lightning believe themselves to be in highly actionable positions within the context of the series after a split in Tampa. But the team in red is the one that will be best served in maximizing their opportunity on home ice.
The past 40 hours or so have been a complete circus of misinformation and winking nods from the Lightning side since Game 2 concluded with Andrei Vasilevskiy in net and Ben Bishop in the locker room. Jon Cooper’s vaudeville act has also included honest nods to the cantankerous John Tortorella while maintaining that it truly won’t be revealed who the starting netminder for the Ning will be until game time. While it was initially suspected that Bishop came down with an acute case of the shits in the third period, it now seems more likely that he’s tweaked some kind of injury, but again, there is no official word on what it even could be. No one will likely know until the series ends, but the early money is either on a groin or a back issue.
Should Bishop start, he’s back on the road again where he’s been significantly better than he has been at home, with a radioactive .947 save percentage facing 28 shots a contest while wearing white. Bishop now famously shut the Rangers out in consecutive games at MSG in the East final, and should he go he might not need to go to that length, but he’ll certainly need to improve on his .888 at home overall and in the first two games of the series. If the rookie Vasilevskiy gets the nod, truly all analysis would be out the window for a 20 year old rookie making a spot start on the road in the Cup Final. He was solid in 16 games backing up Bishop with a .918, though that dipped to a .905 on the road. He’s got first round pedigree, and is 6’3″, 208 lbs and solid positionally while showing some improvisational flair as well. As is always the case, the only surefire strategy for a goalie is volume. And if the Hawks make either of these two work more than they’re accustomed to, the results should bear out long term.
Regardless of who is in net, Victor Hedman will once again be leading the Tampa blue line. Other than coughing up a puck in Game 1 under the pursuit of Patrick Sharp which led to Antoine Vermette’s winner, Hedman has been flawless, and is even faster than advertised. His partner, Anton Stralman, has also been solid, playing the highly efficient game he’s been known for. But behind these two is where things start to bubble up for the Lightning defense, especially now coming on the road, and now that Jon Cooper has gone back to only dressing 6 blueliners. Braydon Coburn, Jason Garrison, Andrej Sustr, and Matt Carle boasted 4 of the 5 worst shot differentials in Game 2, with none getting any higher than Coburn’s -3. Without the benefit of last change tonight and Wednesday, Jon Cooper may have to double shift Hedman if things get messy further down the depth chart, though that’s not something he’s exhibited a readiness to do thus far in the playoffs.
Up front for the Lightning, the Triplets awoke, with both Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov scoring in Game 2, and all three above water in possession, attempting 9 shots as a threesome. Johnson in particular showed no ill effects of whatever had been ailing him, but only took one draw the entire game, which will be something to monitor tonight. Jonathan Drouin also appears to be back in the lineup tonight in favor of the seventh defenseman Nikita Nesterov. While Drouin was noticeable during his first couple of shifts, he didn’t see much ice time as the game wore on, playing only 7:52 total. Outside of the Triplets, only Alex Killorn was on the ice for more shot attempts for than against at just +1, and that was with the benefit of having last change. The only matchup that Cooper consistently chased was Pauquette against Toews with Hedman backing them up. Toews won that possession battle slightly, while both were on the ice for a goal against. And Cooper will have to be extra diligent if that’s what he wants again tonight despite not having much of a track record of getting very matchy-uppy.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, there are some predictable lineup changes following Game 2’s loss. Bryan Bickell looks to be getting back into the lineup tonight in place of Kris Versteeg, who wasn’t terrible but wasn’t providing anything tangibly positive either, unless the hilarity of being penalized for getting a forehead full of goalpost counts. The Hawks are notoriously shitty at covering up and tending to concussions, and this Bickell example might be the most ridiculously egregious, with Quenneville and others prattling on about “migraines” and “vertigo”. Either way, Bickell provides a size element that is missing from both forward corps in this series aside from Brian Boyle, who doesn’t play that type of game anyway. He’ll find himself on Brad Richards’ wing opposite Patrick Kane as Marian Hossa returns to the top unit with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. With Toews and Kane now split up, it forces Cooper to pick who Hedman gets a look at all night long, with common wisdom saying it will be Toews. That should leave Patrick Kane a bit more space on the his wing this time around rather than being hounded by Hedman.
For the Hawk defense, Trevor Van Riemsdyk will make his long awaited return, playing in his first NHL game since his kneecap injury in November. Obviously hopes were high for TVR with what he showed in the first 18 games of the season, but he’s had trouble getting back on track since then, with a wrist injury after just 8 poorly played games in Rockford. Obviously the expectations for him should be minimal, slightly above “don’t be David Rundblad” levels of getting the Hawks killed for the 5 to 7 minutes he’ll need to give them, and even that might be a tall order given the situation. But the Hawks are at an advantage at home where his competition and zone starts can be heavily sheltered. And again, when, not if, the situation warrants, Quenneville has no problem leaning on his top four and asking 25+ minutes a night from all of them.
In net Corey Crawford will be looking to turn around his first mediocre performance of the post season since getting yanked against Nashville. While 4 on 24 shots isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially when 3 of them were deflected on him, the goal line stuff attempt from Tyler Johnson simply cannot happen, and he’ll assuredly have many more saves of far greater difficulty to make tonight.
To this point in the series, the Hawks have controlled 53% of the total shot attempts in the series, both in raw counts and adjusted for game and score situations, and that’s without having the benefit of picking the matchups. By splitting up Kane and Toews, the Hawks are forcing Cooper to pick one to defend with Hedman barring an unforseen drastic uptick in play from his other defensemen. And with Tyler Johnson unable to take faceoffs, the Hawks won 35 of 54 on the road, a number which stands to go up at home with both the benefit of last change and last stick down. And regardless of who is in net, the Hawks will need to make them work harder than they had to in the two games in Tampa.
Having already accomplished the necessary split in Tampa, it’s now time for the Hawks to take one step closer and do what they are supposed to at home. The opportunity is there for them to seize, and with it, a firmer grip on the series. Let’s Go Hawks.