Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, TVA, WGN-AM 720
Piss And Vinegar: Raw Charge
Tonight on the west side the Stanley Cup Final makes the turn to the back stretch with the Hawks needing a win at home to keep the Lightning from heading back to Tampa with an opportunity to clinch. While not literally a “must win”, it’s as close as it gets for the Hawks, who are looking to even up the series and put themselves in a far more advantageous position moving forward.
It’s taken all of about six seconds after each game for the Lightning as a group to remind everyone through the press just how highly they think of themselves, starting from their coach on down. To hear Cedric Pauquette profanely talk in self congratulatory fashion after Game 3, one would think that the Bolts had won all three games walking away, dominating the possession ledger. When in actuality, only the Triplets line came away smelling like a rose as far as shot attempts were concerned on Monday, and overall in the series, there are only three Lightning forwards (Paquette included) who can say the same. Steven Stamkos in particular has the most shot attempts for their forward corps so far with 13, but no points to show for his efforts. He and linemate Valtteri Filppula have both had to defend far more often than they’d like to, and that’s with the benefit of two home games. After relative silence in game one, however, the Triplets have at least dented the score sheet in the last two games, despite seeing most of their time against the Toews line on Monday. Palat’s game tying goal came against the Hawks’ fourth line, which is supposed to be able to keep that from happening, but Kyle Cumiskey helped aid and abet that.
For Tampa’s defense, the discussion now basically begins and ends with Victor Hedman, who has been absolutely everywhere and everything to the Lightning. His 120 foot pass to Ryan Callahan opened the scoring, and his speed and mobility in backing off the Hawk defensemen at the line led to the game winner. For comparison’s sake, Hedman has a 58.18% share of shot attempts at evens through three games in the final, and even Chris Pronger only had 57.25% after three games, though Hedman was at home twice as opposed to once for Pronger. But even Pronger got more help than Hedman is getting as everyone else save his partner in Anton Stralman is well below water, and even he’s only at 50% even. This is old hat for Matt Carle and Braydon Coburn who were torched in the aforemention series in 2010 and now have five extra years of miles on them against an arguably faster forward corps top to bottom. Carle in particular has been simply awful, with only a 37.7% share, worst on the Lightning by a country mile.
That difficulty away from Hedman led the Hawks to put 38 shots on a hobbled Ben Bishop on Monday, of which he stopped 36, good for a .947 save percentage, dead on to his playoff road average. But if pressed, Bishop would likely tell anyone that he got plenty of help from various rolling pucks and goalposts. And whatever is ailing him is doubtfully miraculously gone. Even if healing hands have been laid upon him in whatever mystery area is actually hurt, putting a volume of shots on him is the only way to get the luck to eventually even out, and 6 of his 7 his defensemen seem more than happy to play matador in front of him.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, they find themselves in a familiar, albeit strenuous, situation. Kris Versteeg finds himself back in the lineup tonight in favor of the obviously still dizzy Bryan Bickell, this time with the two linemates with whom he found the greatest success in the regular season, Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. The other forward units will remain the same, and Joel Quenneville will be well served to keep Richards and Kane away from Victor Hedman at all costs. With the way he’s playing, that needs to be strictly a task for Saad, Toews, and Hossa, who were all a +12 or better on Monday playing most of their time away from him. They’ll have the ability to force Hedman to defend and are more inclined and capable in back pressuring his rushes up ice. That leaves Kruger against the Triplets, where they won the possession battle despite giving up the equalizer 13 seconds after Saad put the Hawks ahead.
On the blueline, Quenneville has apparently seen one too many egregious boners from Kyle Cumiskey, and Kimmo Timonen will return to the lineup. Kimmo fared far better in the first two series against the speed games of Nashville and Minnesota than he did against the physicality of Anaheim, so the main goal will be for him not to get the Hawks killed when out there, which should be nearly exclusively in offensive zone starts and paired with Brent Seabrook as a babysitter. Johnny Oduya is as healthy as he’s going to get and is slated to play tonight, and TVR stays in the lineup as well after looking decent on Monday. Duncan Keith yet to drive the play as much as he had been doing so prior to coming into this series, and they’ll need him to regain that form even in spite of the minutes workload. He clearly can handle it, and it’s certainly not going to be as though he’ll turn down a shift if tapped on the shoulder.
While much blame will assuredly be heaped on Corey Crawford for Monday, there was really nothing he could do about either third period goal, with his defensemen losing their checks in both cases. He stopped two breakaways and was excellent on the prolonged 5-on-3. But Callahan’s shot is obviously one he’d like to have back, and credit where it’s due on the shot. Att that point in the game going down 1-0 should not have been back-breaking. One way or the other he will need a stronger performance tonight.
While nothing is truly dire at this point and with the Hawks controlling possession over the first three games, taking advantage of home ice and the matchups they provide is an absolute must tonight within the context of this series, and Steven Stamkos will not stay silent forever. The key components are still in place for the Hawks to go and seize the opportunities presented. It has to happen tonight. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to tonight’s game, make sure to pick up a copy of our program sold outside at all four corners of the arena. If you’re not, you can get the digital version right here.