The facts and figures behind the enormous confidence the Chicago Blackhawks will bring to the ice Tuesday night (8 p.m. ET, VERSUS, CBC, RDS) are all too real, however. The Hawks fully believe they will fly back to the West Coast up two games in this best-of-7.
Ignoring the obvious home-crowd edge and boost received from stealing away home-ice advantage, coach Joel Quenneville's nuanced line changes in Game 2 seemed to be the key to unlocking impenetrable Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo and turning the series in Chicago's favor.
"I wasn't going to let us get in a rut and find ourselves compromised the way [having to scratch away in a desperate third-period comeback] we did in Game 1," Quenneville said after Monday's practice. "We needed to force the issue on our end, and everything seemed to click once changes were made."
Midway through the first period of Game 2, Quenneville improvised a Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp-Martin Havlat first line, with Patrick Kane taking up with Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd. The mix-and-match continued all game through, and paid off best when "Coach Q's" new line of Ben Eager-Adam Burish-Havlat generated the eventual game-winner, Eager's score off of a pass from Burish to put the Hawks up early in the third, 4-2.
Of all the positives that came from their ebullient Game 2 effort, the Blackhawks' line shifts and apparent picking of the lock that is Luongo has left Chicago aglow.
"[Luongo] is a great, great goalie," said Bolland, who scored twice, including a shorthanded surprise that gave the Hawks their first lead of the series. "If you approach him thinking he's going to beat you, he will."
"However we did it, we got into his head a little bit now," said Toews, who assisted Kane's goal late in Game 2. "That can only help us going forward."
After carrying the Canucks to a sweep of the St. Louis Blues in the quarterfinals by allowing only five goals in the series, Luongo has coughed up eight goals in two games vs. Chicago. The key, said Quenneville, wasn't so much in his line scramble in Game 2 than the foot traffic those new combinations have created in front of Vancouver's ace.
"[Dustin] Byfuglien, ‘Ladder' [Andrew Ladd], [Adam] Burish, they've been a distraction at the net," Quenneville said. "You've got to get scores that way in the postseason, and we've been successful so far in creating diversions and jams in front [of Luongo]."
Contrary to the start of their quarterfinal series vs. the Calgary Flames, where the Blackhawks were outplayed but managed a draw in the first two games, Chicago has clearly been both more physical and more athletic than the Canucks through the first pair in the semis. Don't anticipate that changing in front of the rabid United Center crowd this week.
"We need to hit the net hard," Ladd said. "We can't stop attacking and creating mismatches against a great defense like Vancouver's."
There was plenty of buzz not only over Chicago's home-ice and momentum advantage, but Vancouver's injury spate, apparently claiming defenseman Sami Salo and Mats Sundin, wasn't anything to concern the Blackhawks.
"We skate against who's out there," Burish said. "Everybody's nicked up at this point. We have to focus on our side and giving 100 percent. If we manage that, it doesn't matter who's out there on their side, we believe we can win."