For all of the supposed depth the Chicago Blackhawks possess throughout their talented lineup, such didn't seem to be the case Saturday as they were thumped by their biggest rivals in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals.
The visiting Detroit Red Wings came into the United Center and turned the tables on the hometown 'Hawks, cruising to a 4-1 victory while stealing a game to even the series at 1-1. Chicago was flat-out beaten in every area of the game and looked lethargic after taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The Blackhawks, who seemingly skated in circles around the Wings in their 4-1 win in Game 1, were nowhere to be found during Game 2, and the United Center crowd reflected that. I haven't heard the building that quiet since the days of "Dollar Bill" Wirtz, an era before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews revived the franchise and made the "Madhouse on Madison" a rocking place to be again.
Speaking of Kane, he finally got off the schneid with his first goal since April 2011, but the 'Hawks couldn't hold the lead and looked awful in the final two periods as the Wings scored four unanswered goals.
The sudden lethargic attitude stemmed from an inability to adjust, as the vulnerable Detroit defense from Game 1 made adjustments to stymie the prolific Chicago forecheck. The roles reversed, Chicago simply shut down and played one of its worst games, if not the worst game, of the year. And while the Blackhawks don't need to panic at all, they do need to make some changes before playing Game 3 Monday night in Detroit.
Enter Viktor Stalberg.
Stalberg, who played in all five games of the Blackhawks' first-round series victory over the Minnesota Wild, has been a healthy scratch for the first two games of the Detroit series. While there has been no direct indication as to why he hasn't suited up against the Wings, it's likely that Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville wasn't impressed with his energy level in the week off that the Blackhawks had while they waited for their second-round matchup.
Stalberg was limited to just one assist in five games against the Wild, but brings an unparalleled speed game to the Blackhawks that the Wings won't be able to match. Lining up on the wing with Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell as his linemates, the 27-year-old Swede scored nine goals and added 14 helpers in 47 regular-season games, tied for fifth on the team with 23 points.
The winger played well against Detroit in the regular season, scoring one goal and adding two assists while going plus-two over four games. But the thing Stalberg brings the most to the table, aside from his blinding speed, is his solidification of the third line. Andrew Shaw's chippy and aggressive play have kept him on the third line alongside Bolland and Bickell after the former returned from injury at the start of the Detroit series, but it's time for Coach Q to again juggle the lines.
While it's not fair to be overly critical of Bolland, a main staple in the Blackhawks' success over the past five years, he had an awful Game 2 against Detroit, racking up eight penalty minutes on four minor calls. While the 'Hawks penalty kill remained stellar in another brilliant special teams showing, the penalties Bolland took in the game were, in a word, dumb.
Worse, while the Wings power play failed to convert, the 'Hawks burned valuable five-on-five time to kill them off. Shaw served one of the minors when Bolland took two minutes for roughing and another two for slashing at 14 minutes, 45 seconds in the first period. While Shaw remained clean in Game 2, his overaggression twice put the Wings on the power play in Game 1.
Daniel Carcillo, who played with Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger on Chicago's fourth line, took a cross-checking penalty shortly after Damien Brunner tied the Game at 1-1 early in the second period. This penalty was unmerited and selfish, putting the Blackhawks again at a man disadvantage and killing any rally after the Brunner goal.
With both Bolland and Bickell playing on the third line as natural centers, Shaw has been moved to the wing. Inserting Stalberg back into the mix in his usual spot on the third line would most likely see Shaw replace Carcillo alongside Frolik and Kruger on the fourth line, which would benefit the Blackhawks as well, giving them more scoring talent and increasing the depth. Better yet, Shaw's grit would benefit his linemates, who play more of a speed game and are crucial to the 'Hawks' penalty kill success.
Inserting Stalberg into the fray would inject some much-needed life into the Blackhawks, who will no doubt come out hungrier on Monday, looking for a chance to steal back home-ice advantage. Fans would be hard-pressed to find a faster skater on Monday night than No. 25 for Chicago, nor a player who wants to help his team win more.
Stalberg told the Chicago Tribune that Quenneville had not been happy with his play and that he understands he'll need to pick it up to receive more ice time and remain a constant in Chicago's lineup. Plus, he'll be playing for a new contract, since he becomes a free agent when the 2013 season is over.
Certainly he'll want to help the 'Hawks extend that deadline as far as they can.
Chicago lost back-to-back games just four times in the regular season. Expect its intensity to be much better come Monday night.
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