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Goal drought is a concern for Blackhawks

by Tal Pinchevsky / Chicago Blackhawks
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BOSTON -- Until the past couple of days, the Chicago Blackhawks' season has been all but flawless.

The Blackhawks breezed through the regular season, going 24 games without a regulation loss and coasting to the Presidents' Trophy as regular-season champions. Chicago did have to overcome a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference Semifinals. But after winning three in a row to eliminate the Red Wings and eight of nine overall, they've hit some serious troubles against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.

After a 2-0 loss Monday in Game 3 at TD Garden that put Chicago in a 2-1 hole in this best-of-7 series, one number stood out to show how poorly the Hawks are playing: 122 minutes, 26 seconds.

That's how long the Blackhawks have gone without scoring -- and for a team that was second in the NHL in scoring during the regular season, that's incomprehensible. This was a team that led the League by a hefty margin with a 5-on-5 goal differential of 1.52. They ranked No. 2 behind the Pittsburgh Penguins in goals and weren't shut out a single time during the regular season. But now, they've now effectively gone more than two full games without a goal.

"I think we have the puck, but we need to get inside and figure out a way to get different chances in the offensive zone," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "It's such a close game. I know it's 2-0, but we had chances. It just comes down to a couple of little plays. It's just a fine line. That's all it is."

Much of the focus surrounding Chicago's offensive drought has been on its inept power play, which has failed to score on 11 opportunities in this series. But Chicago posted a pedestrian 16.7 percent success rate with the man advantage during the regular season, ranking No. 19 in the League.

Six straight periods without a goal is not just about the power play. Not for a team that hasn't gone scoreless for this long a stretch since October 2006, when a Blackhawks team that had not yet drafted star forward Patrick Kane was blanked in three straight games.

Despite their offensive struggles, the Blackhawks remain confident in the game plan that got them this far.

"I'm confident with the players we have on this team," forward Patrick Sharp said. "Every team in the Stanley Cup Final is a team that deserves to be here and is here because of the way they play defensively and check away from the puck. It's tough to score up there, but we've got to find a way."

If there is a silver lining to the team's inability to score Monday night, it may be how the Blackhawks responded the last time they were shut out. On May 23, Chicago lost 2-0 to Detroit to fall behind 3-1 in its second-round series. Chicago responded with three straight wins to beat the Red Wings and steamroll its way to the Final.

"It's something we'll draw upon in the next few days," Sharp said. "Think about the situation we're in and how we can get better and how we can get out of it. We're a confident team, we believe in each other. There's a lot of heart in here."

Frustrated by a lack of offense in Game 3, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville eventually resorted to stacking his lines by playing his three best forwards - Sharp, Kane and Jonathan Toews - together in the third period.

It was a strategy he abandoned quickly, although he did mention that it was a line combination he could come back to at some point in the series. In a hard-fought, tight-checking series that has seen third-line forward Daniel Paille score the game-winner in back-to-back games, a line made up entirely of All-Stars may not be the answer.

"It's a low-chance game. It's a low-chance series. Scoring first is important, even though the winners of the last couple of games didn't score first," Quenneville said. "It's hard to get A-plus chances. You have to manufacture the kind of ugly goals, tip screens, deflections. The frequency of having high-quality chances in this series at both ends has not been there."

To their credit, the Bruins have done this before.

They held Pittsburgh's League-leading offense to two goals as they swept the Penguins out of the Eastern Conference Final. Boston's defense has been almost as stingy against Chicago. Goaltender Tuukka Rask has three shutouts and a sterling 1.64 goals-against average this postseason.

The Blackhawks' offense, which has already beaten world-class goaltenders in Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Jimmy Howard of the Red Wings, has to get into some of the dirty areas if Chicago hopes to even this series.

"We ran up against some of the best goalies in the League," Quenneville said. "Tonight I thought we made it rather easy on [Rask] as far as traffic and finding and seeing pucks. I think we've got to be better at going to the net in non-puck areas."

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