Chicago Blackhawks vs. Nashville Predators – First Round – Game 4
When: 7:00 PM
Where: Nashville, Tennessee (Bridgestone Arena)
TV: NBCSN, CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Tennessee
So here we are, standing on the precipice, the brink of a shocking elimination. A sweep out in the first round, any exit for that matter, will send tremors through this organization. Regardless of how the dust settles, the product of work thus far should already be sending those soul-searching messages to those at the top.
Whether it ends tonight, or the Hawks find a way to push things longer, the Blackhawks have some serious questions to ask themselves if they want to pry this championship window open any longer. But we’ll deal with that massive headache when the guillotine finally falls. For now, we’re still alive.
Before we get too antsy peering into the Hawks’ foggy future, let’s remember that there’s still a Game 4 out there to try to win. Whatever the Hawks have been doing through the first three games obviously isn’t working. It’s not that the scheme and “X’s and O’s” are flawed, it’s just that the bodies that were normally good at executing those plays have started to rapidly decline and show their age. As Mark Potash said in the Sun Times, the Blackhawks are trying to throw a fastball that they no longer have.
So what has to change? Well, it’s a tough decision for Quenneville to make when your season hangs in the balance. He’s paid the big bucks to weigh those risks. Do you stick with what’s worked all year hoping it finally clicks? Or do you fire up the blender?
Starting on defense, I wonder if the Hawks would consider scratching Oduya for Kempny (should have been grooming him for the playoffs instead of trading for another retread), and maybe even Campbell for Forsling if they want to get crazy. The Blackhawks recalled Kyle Baun, Tyler Motte, and Erik Gustafsson from Rockford on Tuesday. The obvious risk here is that you’re throwing young, cold, inexperienced players out on the ice for a road elimination game instead of the steady (but slooooow) veterans. On the other side of the coin, bringing in players like Kempny or Forsling will provide the Hawks blue line with some young, fresh legs and greater offensive touch. Despite the defensive liability they could be, I wouldn’t hate it if Q made this move to provide some sort of offensive spark to the Hawks’ melting defense.
The forwards are a little more complicated. There are tons of different blender combinations Q could come up with to try to find something that works. I would love to see him split up the Kane-Anisimov-Panarin line. Anismov is clearly still ailing from the injury he sustained in early March. He hasn’t even been close to his normal self. The result is that he hasn’t been able to dig out 50/50 pucks, win deep board battles, or set the table for 88/72. It has caused both Kane and Panarin to suffer, even though Kane was the Hawks best offensive player in Game 3.
I would put Kane and Toews together on the top line. It’s do or die time for the Hawks, and if we’re gonna die I want to go out throwing the foundation together at the top. Part of the reasoning is also the hope that 88’s presence can help Toews get out of whatever yearlong funk he’s been in. The next question is who to put alongside those two. There are obviously plenty of options, but given Schmaltz’s struggles to open his first ever playoffs, I would go with the steady hand of Marian Hossa. There are a lot of question marks with Hossa, and we documented a few of them in the Game 3 recap. How much longer can he produce at a high level? Who knows. But with our lives on the line I trust him up there with 88 and 19.
Beneath the top line there are plenty of options for the Hawks. I’d love to see Q possibly move Anisimov down to the third or fourth line, but even that is a risk given his injury liability and need to defend while on those lines on the road. I’d keep Panarin on the second line and pray that he finally hits his playoff stride. His performance in his two postseasons has left a lot to be desired given his regular season heroics.
This is how I would go for Game 4:
I like having Hartman with Anisimov and Panarin because he’ll be able to do what Anisimov usually does for 88/72 and that’s hopefully win board battles and dig out pucks. He can do that while Anisimov hobbles to the front of the net and Panarin circles waiting for a chance.
That fourth line… Yeah… three rookies. Maybe flip that fourth line with the third to protect the kids? That way the same Line 3 that was fantastic in Game 3 could create some fourth line pressure in Game 4, and also probably defend better in the big spots.
Moving Schmaltz down will maybe help him relax a little bit, but being on a lower line means he’ll have to defend more, so there really isn’t a totally comfy place for him. His playoff adjustment would be covered better if Toews wasn’t fighting for his own dang life right now.
I’d also bring in John Hayden to provide a little bit of size and mobility. I like having Panik with Kruger, who was one of the best Hawks on the ice in Game 3, and alongside them scoring machine Doc Rasmussen. That line was the only one getting constant pressure against the Preds in Game 3.
On defense, I’m keeping Campbell in the lineup but tapping Kempny to replace Johnny Oduya. He’s just been too much of a liability, and I want as much speed as possible. Give me 2 and 7 at the top, then Hjalmarsson to babysit for Kempny while he hopefully provides a breath of fresh air. And then Campbell in the third pairing, where his ability is best suited right now, to go along with TVR, who actually wasn’t terrible in Game 3.
That’s how I would do it, but I’m dumb and not paid to make these decisions. Whatever Quenneville decides to do, whether that’s keep the status quo or go crazy, the Hawks are going to need something to change. You can keep things the same and hope that the dam finally breaks, or you can get radical. Not much of an “in-between” right now.
The Preds will be eager to get this thing over as quickly as possible. In no way shape or form do they want to give the Hawks a glimmer of hope and a trip back to the United Center. The fourth one is always the hardest to win, and hopefully despite their decline the Hawks can find a way to scrape one out in Game 4.
Losing this series in general will be bad enough, but getting swept would be a tar and feathering that the rest of the league has wanted to see for eight years.
All I have to say is, don’t let us win this one…