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Blackhawks Buzz: Still searching for answers on offense

by Emerald Gao / Chicago Blackhawks


1. FOUR CORNERED

After dropping Game 3 on Sunday, the Blackhawks trail once more to St. Louis in the First Round series, although it's not an unfamiliar spot for them, having trailed 2-1 in each of their last three playoff matchups. Chicago was in a good place, nursing a one-goal lead after Artemi Panarin found Artem Anisimov early in the second period, but two Blues tallies in the final 20 minutes rewrote the ending. First, Patrik Berglund bounced a puck in off a defender's leg to even the score, and Jaden Schwartz's power-play tally at 13:22 was the difference-maker. St. Louis connected twice on the power play in Game 3, putting a dent in Chicago's previously perfect penalty kill, and the loss ended the Blackhawks' streak of 76 games without a regulation loss when leading after two (71-0-5) dating back to the 2014 playoffs, per Elias Sports Bureau.

The good news for Chicago is that historically, this is typically where they make their adjustments, and they've been able to turn around playoff series when it counts. But the Blues have also improved game after game, and the consensus in the room is, in the words of Corey Crawford, "Whatever's happened in years before, they're not the same team." If the Blackhawks can hold St. Louis at bay in Game 4 and even the series again, it will set up a scintillating best-of-three to close out another chapter in the divisional rivalry.

2. TOP OF THE LINE

St. Louis' top line has produced two of the team's six goals thus far in the series, but they've created far and away the most dangerous scoring chances of either team. Schwartz potted the game-winner in Game 3, while his line with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera combined for 15 shots on goal (41.7 percent of the team's total). Despite not getting on the scoresheet, Tarasenko led all skaters with 13 shot attempts in the contest (7 on goal, 4 blocked and 2 missed), which is not what the Blackhawks wanted to accomplish, especially with last change on home ice. In the series, he also leads all skaters with 12 scoring chances at even strength, and shares the lead with Schwartz in high-danger scoring chances (6 each). And although scoring chances have been even between the two teams in the three games so far, the Blues have manufactured far more attempts close to Chicago's net, accumulating a 35-19 edge in high-danger opportunities (data via war-on-ice.com). This means clearing out the front of the net and limiting turnovers in the defensive zone—especially when St. Louis' first line is on the ice—will be an important adjustment for Chicago's defenders going forward.

3. POWER OUTAGE

While St. Louis has received important contributions from their top six, the Blackhawks have not been able to say the same. Kane has three assists but no goals, while the top trio of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Andrew Ladd have just two assists between them, both belonging to the captain. It's not from lack of trying, certainly, as they've combined for 36 shots on goal over the three games and pace the team in even-strength shot differential. Ladd logged 8 SOG in Game 3, but only had two posts to show for it, including one on a play that could have given the Blackhawks a vital 3-1 lead. A combination of bad luck and committed team defense by St. Louis has kept the Blackhawks' stars quiet, but Chicago will need their big names to break through in order to catch up to an opponent that has played with confidence in their own end.

4. DUELING D

Both teams know that one key to establishing offensive superiority in this series is to get their defensemen involved in the attack, and both succeeded to some extent in Game 3. Brent Seabrook opened the scoring with a long blast on the power play, aided by a great screen by Ladd in front, for his first of the playoffs; he joins Duncan Keith (1G, 1A) as the only two blueliners to get on the scoresheet for Chicago thus far. However, St. Louis has been able to set the pace more and more due to the presence of puck-movers on all three defensive pairings. Blues rookie Colton Parayko answered Seabrook's goal with a power-play tally of his own late in the first period on Sunday for his first career postseason goal. The Blues have also gotten big contributions from Kevin Shattenkirk (1G, 1A), Alex Pietrangelo (2A) and Jay Bouwmeester (1A).

5. BRIAN'S SONG

The story of the series so far has been the stellar play of both netminders. Corey Crawford has allowed just six goals on 85 shots in his three starts for a .929 save percentage, and he made some of his best stops so far in the playoffs in the second period of Game 3, including several goalmouth scrambles. Unfortunately, his counterpart in the St. Louis net was slightly more impressive on Sunday: Brian Elliott set playoff career highs with 44 saves on 46 shots, including 23 of 24 in the second period. Chicago has faced red-hot goaltenders before—Anaheim's Fredrik Andersen seemed impenetrable early on in last year's Western Conference Final—but Elliott is playing on another level. The 2003 ninth-round pick has allowed just four goals on 109 Blackhawks shots (.963 SV%) over the first three games of the series, saving virtually everything he's been able to see clearly, and head coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged on Monday that getting more puck past him will be crucial moving forward.

THE FINAL WORD

The Blackhawks know from recent playoff experience that being down 2-1 to a strong opponent isn't cause for panic. But there are concerns, especially against a St. Louis roster that's getting stronger every tilt. There's the lack of even-strength scoring, although the chances have been there, as well as the inability to keep the Blues' top line from getting into the dangerous areas. Tightening up defensively, as they did in Game 1, should be a major component of the game plan in Game 4, and getting their top players on the scoresheet would give the team a big boost as well. All in all, Chicago needs just a bit more from every single player on the ice. Or as Quenneville put it: "In order to beat a good team you have to be great. We still feel we have another level to get to that greatness."

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