-- So what needs to happen for the Chicago Blackhawks
to win their home leg of the Western Conference Finals and shorten the series to a best-of-3?
On the surface, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
merely expects a return to Chicago to provide a major energy boost. Quenneville has praised the raucous United Center faithful throughout the playoffs, and he feels home ice is a significant, tangible advantage for his Blackhawks.
But home cooking alone won't send the series back to Motown all even.
Chicago played Detroit close for most of the first two games at Joe Louis Arena. The only time the Hawks seemed to lose their footing, to hear Quenneville say it and several players confirm, was in the latter stages of Game 1 when the Hawks broke down into too much freestyle play and looked like baseball sluggers trying to hit six-run homers.
An overhaul of style is not necessary. There has been talk around Chicago throughout the series that the Blackhawks need to use their young legs, overall health and depth to step up their aggressive play and in essence, "overthrow" the defending Stanley Cup champs. But thinking that a deep, experienced Detroit team would somehow fold under uncharacteristic pressure from Hawks trying to capitalize on its exhausting max Semifinal against Anaheim -- not to mention the sight of 5-10, 175-pound smoothie Patrick Kane
bearing down to the boards -- is shortsighted and borders on the absurd.
"We are who we are," Quenneville said after Thursday's practice. "We're a consistent team, steady, not too high or low. We all know we can build on what happened in Game 2 and expect an even better effort (Friday)."
Quenneville will instruct his players to continue to stick to the game plan by using their skills -- but not necessarily by forcing the action.
"It’s one thing you learn facing an experienced team like Detroit," forward Patrick Sharp
said. "They are so active, they keep a stick on you, but they're not always initiating the action. Sometimes it's a matter of reacting and finding opportunities and space."
Expect Quenneville to be willing to further tinker with his lines. In both of the Blackhawks' earlier playoff series, he shook up a stagnant team by changing things around. In Game 2 vs. Detroit, Quenneville broke up Kane and Jonathan Toews
after the team's dynamic duo had been reduced to dynamic duds by future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom
in the opener. By bumping Kane to a second line with Kris Versteeg
and Samuel Pahlsson
, Quenneville gave each of his four top scorers his own line, creating depth and versatility that rivals that of the Red Wings.
Splitting up his sophomore stars, a move seen rarely in Chicago throughout the season, forced Detroit coach Mike Babcock to choose between Kane and Toews when it came time to send out Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski
. While the freestyling Kane was held in check in Game 2, Toews flourished, scoring both Chicago goals and skating much more freely and confidently through the Detroit zone.
"There aren’t many defenders of (Lidstrom's) caliber, anywhere," Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook
said. "It makes sense to want to keep some of your offensive firepower away from him."
When his Canucks faced off against Chicago in the Western Semifinals, Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault
consistently praised his Blackhawks counterpart, and the series as a whole, for the strategic challenge presented. It seems Chicago’s chess-playing days may just be starting, as the game of Lidstrom keepaway comes to the United Center.