Chicago Blackhawks vs. Carolina Hurricanes: 5 Keys to an Inter-Conference Win
Chicago enters the contest fresh off of wins over two Eastern Conference foes, the Islanders and Sabres. With eight of their first 10 games inter-conference affairs, the Blackhawks are getting reacquainted with several opponents.
Thanks to last season's NHL lockout, Chicago will face the Hurricanes for the first time in nearly two years. Carolina earned a 3-0 shutout of the 'Hawks in the last meeting between the two teams on Oct. 28, 2011.
The last time that the Blackhawks beat Carolina, they were defending the Stanley Cup, just as Chicago is again this season.
With Chicago looking to celebrate its return to PNC Arena with a third straight win, here are five keys to beating the Hurricanes.
1. Chicago Must Solve Cam Ward
Carolina has six points in six games in 2013-14 with a 2-2-2 record. The Hurricanes are coming off a 5-3 loss to Phoenix in which Cam Ward went from having the night off to allowing three goals on 12 shots after relieving an injured Anton Khudobin.
With Justin Peters being recalled on Monday after Khudobin went on IR, it is a good bet that the 'Hawks will see Ward in goal Tuesday night. Though he is winless this season, Ward does hold that shutout of Chicago from two years ago, as well as a 0.98 goals against average and a .971 save percentage in four career meetings with the Blackhawks.
Ward won three of those four games, the exception being Chicago's 3-2 shootout win back in the 2008-09 campaign. Peters played in 19 games last season for the Hurricanes in case the 'Hawks see him in the crease instead, but expect Chicago's path to the twine to go through Ward.
2. Stop the Hurricanes from Lighting the Lamp
Jeff Skinner has points in five of Carolina's six games with goals in each of the Hurricanes' last two contests.
The left wing leads Carolina with seven points (two goals, five assists) and is aiming to reach the lofty heights of his 31-goal rookie season back in 2010-11. Nathan Gerbe, who cames to Carolina from the Buffalo Sabres, leads the Hurricanes with three goals.
Former Blackhawks forward Tuomo Ruutu recently returned to the lineup and should be on a top line for Carolina Tuesday night.
3. Don't Be Shocked If the 'Hawks Are in Another Tight One
The Blackhawks took four points over the weekend, but weren't able to pull away from their opposition despite going out to 2-0 leads in each game.
Chicago's second road tilt of the season could be another nip-and-tuck affair.
Two key playoff scorers for Chicago from last season, Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell, are still seeking their first goals of this season. Bickell has alternated from the first to the third line of late while Sharp has had a lot of great looks at the net, but the cover has yet to come off for him.
A goal from either could factor into what kind of battle Chicago may be in against Carolina.
4. The Lower Lines Need to Press the Depth Advantage
Ben Smith and Joakim Nordstrom had key goals this weekend for the Blackhawks. Smith also assisted on what turned out to be the game-winner Friday night before opening the scoring for Chicago on Saturday.
Nordstrom, Brandon Bollig and Brandon Pirri had a nice game in Chicago's win over Buffalo. The fourth line has created some scoring opportunities early in the season while Bollig has concentrated on making plays on the ice and keeping his gloves on.
Whether it is Brandon Saad or Bryan Bickell who lands on the third line against the Hurricanes, it will be key that Chicago presses its advantage over Carolina in depth off the bench.
5. Continue to Solidify the Penalty Kill
Chicago did not give up a power play goal in five attempts against New York and Buffalo. More of the same at Carolina could put the 'Hawks on a legitimate winning streak.
Marcus Kruger got the job done on his defensive zone draws over the weekend, winning seven of eight faceoffs in the Blackhawks' two victories. Hopefully, that is the start of more solid efforts when Chicago is down a man.
What could also help in this area is that the Hurricanes are only converting on 14.29 percent of their power play chances. Continuing the recent trend of success on the penalty kill would go a long way toward the Blackhawks returning to Chicago with a victory.