PHILADELPHIA – With the strong possibility Andrew Ladd will be back in the lineup, the Chicago Blackhawks could have a radically different look in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.
To be sure, they need a shake-up against a Philadelphia Flyers team that is starting to win the battle of matchups. The ultimate victory came in overtime in Game 3 when the Blackhawks were so obsessed with getting their checking line out on the ice that they were caught shorthanded in their own zone and the Flyers scored in overtime.
“I’ll take the hit for that one,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
Added Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith: “I’m not sure what happened or why there was a change there, but we need to be a little smarter when we’re changing.”
The Blackhawks would probably do well to change their approach to the match game. Quenneville seems intent on getting the David Bolland checking line out against the Flyers’ top line of Mike Richards between Simon Gagne and Jeff Carter. That has left the Flyers’ so-called “second line” of Danny Briere between Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell to pretty much run free and pile up points.
The problem has been compounded by the fact the Briere line has controlled the puck so much (some Flyers were joking to Leino that it looked like the puck was stuck to his stick in Game 3) that it is both contributing offensively and rendering the Blackhawks’ top line of Jonathan Toews between Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Kane impotent.
Toews, in particular, looks to be struggling and his inability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone is hurting his linemates. To be sure, Byfuglien’s effect has been limited and it almost seems he’s so intent on staking his territory in front of the Philadelphia net that he’s not accomplishing much else out there. And his presence in front is only going to have an impact if the puck gets to him in that area.
By putting the Bolland line out against the Briere line, the Toews trio would be able to avoid going against Briere. Of course, a big part of the reason for the Toews line’s struggles has been the play of Chris Pronger in the defensive zone and if the games continue to be called as loosely by the officials as Game 3 was, Pronger’s effectiveness will be magnified.
In fact, expect the Blackhawks to spend much of the off-day lobbying the league on calling the post-lockout rulebook.
“We’ll talk about it,” Quenneville said. “There are forums and mechanisms to get our messages across and there were a couple for sure late in the game. There was one that got my attention, whether it’s stick use or obstruction, we’ll keep an eye on it. Whether it’s a dump or a chip, (Pronger) makes you take the long way.”
Toews acknowledges he’s struggled so far in the final and even if he didn’t, there is no shortage of people reminding him about it.
“They’re playing well defensively against some of our top players, but it has always been about us and about how we can play better and that doesn’t change in this series,” Toews said. “At this time of year, there’s always that doubt in your mind and you think there’s always something more you can give every single game. As the captain, whether it’s on the scoresheet or in another way, you want to give something that your teammates are going to recognize and respond to and that’s what I’m trying to do. Obviously, I know there’s still more that I’ve got to do out there.”
As for the Flyers, they spent the off-day basking in the glow of their Game 3 victory, comforted by the fact there have been long stretches in this series when they’ve badly outplayed the Blackhawks. In the third periods of Games 2 and 3, they outshot the Blackhawks by a total of 30-8.
“In the third periods, I think we just went at them and kind of threw it all out there and obviously we had some success doing so,” Richards said. “We just got shots to the net and in overtime, it found its way in.”
THN Puck Panel: What to expect in Game 4
PRODUCER: Ted Cooper
Ken Campbell is on the road following the Stanley Cup final and will be filing daily blogs until a champion is crowned.
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