PUCK DROP: 7pm (so calm down)
I AM BECOME DEATH: St. Louis Gametime
Done it once, can you do it twice? And then thrice?
The Hawks staved off elimination on Thursday night, essentially letting the Blues punch themselves out in the 3rd period and 1st overtime without landing a knockout blow. The Hawks slowly, slowly made their presence known at the end of the first OT and then were the better team in the 2nd, bringing everyone back to Chicago for a Saturday night on the town. And really, where would you rather spend a Saturday night?
Heading into this one, perhaps the most worrying factor is just how tired, at times, the Hawks looked in Game 5. For long stretches other than the 2nd period and the last period, the Hawks were beaten to pretty much every loose puck, lost every battle, and just didn’t seem to have any get-up-and-go. When they took that too many men penalty late in the 3rd, it wasn’t just the fans that looked like they had nothing left. Was that just a one game thing, against a rabid opponent and fans going for the kill? Or have the miles of the past four seasons finally caught up? If it’s the former then the Hawks have every chance of going back to St. Louis where the anuses will be tighter than a snare drum. If it’s the latter, then this very well may be 2012 over again where the Hawks could only delay the execution instead of avoid it.
For the Hawks’ lineup, Andrew Shaw returns and will replace Brandon Mashinter. I’m going to go ahead and say that’s an upgrade. Shaw will move to the top line with Toews and Kane, although Panik had some quality shifts there. Panik slots down to the 4th line with Desjardins at center and Dale Weise on the other side. Certainly Kane and Toews will enjoy the activity level of Shaw, though he’s going to be watched like a hawk by the refs and the Blues themselves. If Shaw is tentative, that’s not really going to help his game. It’s going to be a delicate balance.
The defense appears to be remaining the same, which is… well, there just aren’t any other options given that Christian Ehrhoff is dead. That means Rundblad and Gustafsson will barely come up for air, though at home at least Gustafsson can be better slotted and he really was ok for the 15 minutes he got in Game 5. The Hawks will be riding the other four hard, and given that Earthquake and The Hill have been slashed and burned in both Games 4 and 5, the Hawks’ fatigue level might not be the biggest concern.
Where the Blues are mentally is one of the game’s other biggest questions. On one side, the Blues have to realize they have a Hawks team walking the green mile that is incomplete, flawed, and almost certainly not running on much more than fumes. Yes, they couldn’t end it on Thursday but they have two more chances, and quite frankly are at least the deeper team. They were inches away from not coming back here, and don’t have to change much to (say it with me Al Pacino) get that inch.
On the other, this is the Blues. They know that failing again tonight puts them in a Game 7 that they will have a fuck of a lot more riding on than the Hawks will. Lose this series, and they will ring the changes this summer. This might be their last chances as a group. whereas the Hawks can look upon three previous parades and the enforced changes of the season and kind of shrug their shoulders if they don’t win this series. And this isn’t a team or organization known for its grace when the heat gets turned up.
When you get this deep into a series, there aren’t secrets or new plans that you can really come up with. Both teams know what’s coming and it’s a matter of who does it better. The Blues know that attacking the Hawks, going right at any d-man that’s not wearing #2 or #4 is going to result in chances. It’s getting them past Corey Crawford that’s the real challenge. The Blues have brought their third forward on the forecheck and the d-men behind it lower and lower into the Hawks zone as the series has gone on, and the Hawks really haven’t gotten behind them other than Hossa’s shorty on Thursday. That won’t change. Someone other than Keith is going to have to open up space to make a stretch pass or two otherwise Crow is going to perform more miracles to keep the docs from calling T.O.D.
One thing is for sure, the Hawks are the toughest out around. However it goes the Blues will be in for a real battle tonight and if they want to end it they’ll have to play one of their better games. The Hawks don’t have a bottom of the roster. They are running out of gas. They’re going to have to press their core players into the red and then some. But they know this dance. No one does it better.
If it has to be, out on your shields, boys.
If you’re going to tonight’s game, pick up a copy of our gameday program sold outside the UC. We’ll be there from 5:30 to puck drop. If you’re not, you can get the digital copy right here.