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Improvement on faceoffs key for Blackhawks

Friday, 06.21.2013 / 4:50 PM / Blackhawks vs Bruins - 2013 Stanley Cup Final

By Brian Hedger - NHL.com Correspondent

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Improvement on faceoffs key for Blackhawks
After getting soundly beaten on faceoffs in Game 3, the Blackhawks were much better in Game 4, a big reason why the Stanley Cup Final is tied.

CHICAGO -- They were numbers that jumped off the stat sheet after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, which was held at TD Garden in Boston.

The Boston Bruins, who defeated the Chicago Blackhawks in that game to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series, won 71 percent of the faceoffs that were taken. Chicago won 16 of 56 draws that night, and won one faceoff in each special-teams situation (1-for-7 on the power play and the penalty kill).

The Blackhawks, who finished the regular season 11th in the NHL with a 50.8-percent success rate on draws, weren’t happy about their Game 3 output, regardless of the fact the Bruins ranked first in faceoffs in the regular season (56.4 percent) and continue to lead the League in that category in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs (55.8 percent).

"We knew that Game 3 wasn't good enough," Blackhawks second-line center Michal Handzus, who lost all 10 faceoffs he took in the game, said Friday at United Center. "It wasn't good enough at all. We got a little bit better in Game 4 and we just have to continue to get better."

The Blackhawks improved on draws by a full 20 percent in Game 4, which wound up being a 6-5 overtime victory for them in a game that suited their offensive style much better. Chicago went from 29 percent on draws in Game 3 to 49 percent in Game 4, and likely will have to stay around that mark the rest of the way, starting with Game 5 here on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS).

"It's important to win those faceoffs," Blackhawks third-line center Andrew Shaw said. "If you win faceoffs, you're going to control the game. You're going to control where the puck goes. They were all over us, and I felt like in Game 3 we kind of chased the puck around because we weren't so hot on draws. We rebounded [in Game 4]; we watched some tape on them and kind of figured out what they were doing and just worked and competed at that faceoff dot."

They also went after the puck harder, which resulted in more faceoff wins on 50/50 draws when neither center won it cleanly.

"It was just video and we talked a little bit," Handzus said. "We competed a little bit harder, and if you battle harder you get more rewards [by] physically, getting in there. We needed the help from the wingers. That's the key, because there’s a lot of 50/50 pucks, and if you can come up with those, it would be a big advantage for us."

Chicago has proven it doesn't have to outright win the overall faceoff battle on the stat sheet. In fact, the Blackhawks have lost the faceoff competition in 18 of their 21 playoff games and haven't finished on top since a 3-0 scoreboard victory against the Minnesota Wild in Game 3 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

Typically, if the Blackhawks can keep the faceoff numbers close to 50/50 – even if they're on the down side of the final mark -- their elite puck-possession game allows them to overcome that slight

disadvantage.

"You can mess around with the numbers however you want," said Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, who takes at least a few draws per game. "A neutral-zone faceoff isn't generally as important as an offensive- or defensive-zone faceoff, but at the end of the day you try to win it whenever the ref tries to throw the puck down. You want that puck. So we weren't happy after Game 3 with the numbers. Game 4 was much better and I thought we had the puck more."

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