Chicago Blackhawks' Five Keys to Victory Against Vancouver
Monday's incredible series clincher was a fitting end to a series in which the Hawks ended up beating Vancouver in every possible way.
From busting the trap to busting it open, the Hawks game was too much for a Canucks team that, in the end, was simply outclassed from the bench out.
Let's take a look at some of the difference makers in the series.
Play Your Game
Early in the series, there was the sense that Vancouver's much-heralded defense was attempting to frustrate the Hawks into submission.
While analysts were concocting new strategies and lineups to combat the Canucks stifling style, the Hawks kept their cool. They knew that if they played their own aggressive style, they would be okay.
While they made adjustments throughout the series (which we'll talk about next), they kept the overall philosophy the same.
The Canucks, on the other hand, seemed to transform their squad overnight, and that ultimately became their undoing. Unable to deal with the Hawks' forecheck, they fell in to trap mode in Game Four.
In Game Five, they tried to goon the Hawks off the ice. And in Game Six, they decided they'd go shot for shot.
But no matter how they played it, in the end, they were still outclassed.
Minor Adjustments = Major Impact
Every seven-game series is a chess match, and in this particular set, Chicago's Joel Quenneville and his staff played the board with the precision of a grandmaster.
While Canucks coach Alain Vigneault flailed to find an answer by changing his entire strategy from game to game, Coach Q was able to isolate specific weaknesses in the Canucks system, and his players were able to expose them.
On offense the Hawks figured out how to generate rebounds and open up shooting lanes that had previously been locked down (specific examples in my article "X's And O'S: Small Changes Make Big Difference in Hawks-'Nucks Series").
On defense the Hawks were able to block more shots as the series went on, and more importantly, they were able to adjust their transition game to create more speed through the neutral zone on breakouts.
Two extremely different approaches to coaching in a playoff series were displayed—and in the game within the game, the Blackhawks were clearly better.
Offense from Energy
Neither team in this series was shy about playing their fourth-liners, and generally both teams were successful in establishing their physical game through their grinders.
But the Hawks were able to do one better than the Canucks, in their ability to seamlessly create offense from those energy shifts.
The likes of Ben Eager, Adam Burish, and Troy Brouwer were able to push a physical, punishing tempo that would immediately roll over in to a strong first- or second-line shift. They were able to jump in to multiple roles, and play with the Havlats or Sharps on the team if necessary.
Going by depth, the Hawks took this series in a walk.
Trashing Luongo's Kitchen
Dustin Byfuglien was a force from Game One, creating havoc in front of Luongo, providing toughness and grit on the boards—and probably most importantly, getting into Luongo's head.
Luongo was his usual self early in the series, making big saves and reeling in rebounds. But as the series wore on, it was evident that Luongo wasn't 100 percent on his game. By Game Six, he was completely shattered mentally.
Byfuglien, along with the other Blackhawks' crease-crashers, were able to turn the best goaltender in the league into soggy oatmeal in three games. An impressive feat, to say the least.
Toews Gets Better
It was clear early in the series that Jonathan Toews was not himself. Suffering from the flu, Toews struggled through games one and two of the series.
While his effectiveness was still decent by many standards, he was unable to provide the dominating game that the Blackhawks needed from him in order to be successful.
As the series settled in, Toews' flu subsided and we started to get a glimpse of just how important Toews is to the Blackhawks offense—especially to their power play. In the end, a fully recovered Toews powered his team to victory.
While Pat Kane may have had the better offensive totals, make no mistake: Jonathan Toews is the motor for this team.