While the Detroit Red Wings have proven the puck possession style to be a successful plan of attack in the playoffs, any winning formula has to include a physical edge. The defending champion Wings themselves have this in their arsenal with the like of Niklas Kronwall and Johan Franzen and the Vancouver Canucks support their front-line scorers with a grinding style that wears teams down and made them a favourite in their series with the supposedly weaker Blackhawks.
Like a gruesome title fight, the winner in the NHL playoffs has to answer the bell; play the game they know and adapt to their opponent by attacking their strengths. In Game 1, the Hawks fell behind 3-0 early and were counted out by the casual channel-surfer, but they roared back and gave Vancouver notice that they weren’t going to be pushovers.
In Game 2, the Canucks came out with guns blazing yet again; attacking and smothering the Chicago offense. Vancouver snuffed advances out with bodychecks, by clogging the zone and by winning the board battles that are so key to playoff success. In fact, the first goal was the result of a good ol’ dump-and-chase to draw a penalty and strong puck control behind the net to set up Sami Salo’s slapper.
For the second time in two games Vancouver jumped out to a quick start by playing their rugged style of post-season hockey, but once again these young Hawks proved to be quick learners and matched Vancouver’s tenacity through the final 40 minutes.
As much as Chicago relies on their headliners to lead the charge and provide the offense, it was the brutes Adam Burish, Ben Eager and Dustin Byfuglien who provided the spark that sprung another type of Chicago renaissance.
Burish’s net presence cleared the way for his team’s first goal to get the blood flowing. Eager played the physical game he always does and his early third period goal bridged Chicago’s second period comeback to the third’s dominance. Byfuglien’s big frame was flying around the ice everywhere and he started to establish a home in front of the net and a reputation with the enemy.
Along with what seemed to be much more speed, the Hawks started coming away from the boards with the puck more and more as the game wore on, beating Vancouver at their own game. And when the Hawks took over by using Vancouver’s in-your-face style, their own attributes shone through; Duncan Keith’s heads-up long-ice pass to David Bolland for a shorthanded breakaway goal showed off both an abundance of speed and Chicago’s ability to stretch the ice from the back end.
When little Patrick Kane fought off a few checks along the wall to keep possession for his team and then got the puck back all alone down low to make the game 5-2, you could hear the air being sucked out of GM Place and all hope for the home team going along with it.
With the frustration of having been beaten by their own game, the Canucks started attempting to set the tone for Game 3 in Chicago by causing post-whistle havoc and making big Byfuglien a target, but that stuff can only convince the Hawks of a job well done.
Chicago played with the edge needed to beat a team like Vancouver, who seemed to get slowed up by the resistance. To win through the post-season, teams must face adversity and answer it. To the surprise of many, this young Hawks team has perhaps been the best at it in these playoffs.
So far they’ve answered the bell.
And for whom the bell tolls, time marches on.
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