Blackhawks' Guide to Climbing Back into 2014 Western Conference Final vs Kings

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Blackhawks' Guide to Climbing Back into 2014 Western Conference Final vs Kings
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So you're a Chicago Blackhawks fan, and you have awakened on this lovely Tuesday awash in sadness. You're not feeling all that great about the Western Conference Final after getting handled with ease by the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4.

Your favorite sports team is in a 3-1 series hole and has won one series in 11 attempts in that situation.

The Blackhawks are one loss away from being dethroned, and after a lengthy holiday weekend, you are very likely surrounded by uneaten barbecue meats, empty beer cans and feelings of despair.

That's why I'm here to inject hope into your hopeless situation, which is admittedly very much devoid of hope.

I have gathered every potential sadness-filled question a Blackhawks fan might have heading into Wednesday's do-or-die Game 5 in an attempt to show everyone that this series is not over and the defending champions still have a chance to win this series.

 

By my count, the Blackhawks have been outscored 15-5 since they were leading Game 2. Why in the world would I have any hope the Blackhawks can turn this around?

Yeah, you're right. This series is probably over.

What? I thought you said you were going to offer me hope. What gives?

OK, fine. Yes, the Blackhawks have been tripled up on the scoreboard since halfway through the second period of Game 2. But on the positive side, they've outscored the Kings 2-1 in the past 26 minutes of play. They are absolutely dominating the Kings.

Look, I'll click on something else if you're not going to...

Fine! Here's the first true ray of sunshine I'll offer you: Last year, the Blackhawks were down 3-1 in their second-round series with the Detroit Red Wings but found a way to win three straight. Just like last year, the Blackhawks have two of the final three games of the series at home. Just like last year, the Blackhawks took Game 1 and were then bludgeoned over the next three games (the Red Wings won by a combined 9-2 score).

The Blackhawks have 16 players on the roster from that 2013 team that rallied to win that series and then the Stanley Cup. Nine of the 10 goals scored by the Blackhawks over those final three games were scored by players who will be in the lineup for Game 5.

"We were in the same position last year against Detroit and found a way," defenseman Duncan Keith told reporters after Game 4. "It’s up to us to dig down deep and find a way."

It's easy to forget how bleak things looked for the Blackhawks at that time last year because they went on to win the Cup, but they looked dead in the water against the Red Wings. The Blackhawks were actually down a goal heading into the third period of Game 6 before storming back to force a Game 7.

The Kings have earned a reputation as comeback kids, but the Blackhawks have shown they can do the same. 

So what you're saying is the 2013 Red Wings are just as good as the 2014 Kings?

Admittedly, that is not true and drives a hole through that aforementioned ray of sunshine. The Kings are arguably the best team in the NHL. This will be a far larger mountain to climb.

So why should this make me hopeful?

Because just like last year, Corey Crawford was a train wreck in Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Red Wings yet found a way to recover.

In Games 2, 3 and 4 against the Kings, Crawford has an anemic .841 save percentage; in those same games against the Red Wings a year ago, his save percentage was .907.

OK, so a 0.66 difference is a massive one. Having said that, Crawford stopped 86 of 91 shots (.945) to win the final three games against the Red Wings, save the season and springboard the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup.

Crawford has proven people wrong in the past when he's been counted out, so it has to be at least somewhat comforting to know he is capable of doing it again.

No one is counting out Corey Crawford. He's an elite goaltender who won a Stanley Cup last year. The team needs to be better in front of him.

Oh, I forgot I'm talking with a hypothetical Blackhawks fan, so of course you think that. My apologies.

What else do you have? Will the Blackhawks be a different team at United Center?

That's a great question, fictional person I'm talking with, because yes, I do think it matters to them.

The Blackhawks were 7-0 at home in the playoffs and leading 2-0 in Game 2 before the wheels fell off and the car wrapped around a tree. Even with that loss, the Blackhawks do everything better at home, including the power play (7-of-22) and the penalty kill (88 percent), two areas that have been disasters on the road in the playoffs and against the Kings specifically.

In Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center, the Kings went 3-of-6 on the power play and killed all seven man-advantage situations for the Blackhawks. Perhaps the cozy confines of United Center and can turn that around.

Still, how in the world are the Blackhawks going to win a game on the road, which is a must in this series?

Another excellent question. Honestly, I don't know. The Blackhawks have been so bad on the road this season (19-14-8 regular season, 2-6 playoffs) that it's going to take an amazing individual effort (looking at you, Corey Crawford). 

Let's cross that bridge if and when we come to it. 

Is it possible there are many key Blackhawks playing with significant injuries, so all of these statistics and anecdotes from last season won't matter?

It is possible, and it certainly looks that way for certain players. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook look like they are skating with 50-pound lead vests under their uniforms. Patrick Sharp hasn't looked right all postseason.

Maybe those players are hurt, or maybe they just look slow because the Kings look so good. We'll likely find that out once the Blackhawks' season is over, whenever that may be.

Forget Crawford, home and road splits, the special teams—why should I have faith that any of our elite goal scorers are going to figure it out at this point?

Sharp (34 goals), Marian Hossa (30 goals) and Patrick Kane (29 goals) have combined for one goal in this series. Sharp and Hossa have combined for five goals in the postseason, and while Kane has six goals, he has just one goal in his past nine games.

But there are...

…Sorry to interrupt, but that was the most depressing paragraph I have ever read. That's supposed to offer me hope?

Can you just let me finish? 

Sorry, go ahead.

Thank you. But there are reasons to believe those players are due to break out.

Hossa has been a Corsi beast the past three games and has been on the ice for 67.2 percent of shot attempts over that time. He had nine shot attempts in Game 4 although only three hit the net. Still, he has been very dangerous of late and isn't far off from getting a puck in the back of the net.

Sharp's possession numbers in this series are nowhere near as flattering (but he was better in Game 4), and there's not a lot that says he's on the verge of a big scoring night. He did score in Game 7 against the Red Wings last year, so if it gets that far...OK, I hear this, and I know it's not helping, so I'll stop.

Repeat that Sharp paragraph and apply it to Kane (and take away the Game 7 heroics), and that's my summation.

Admittedly, this has not been my best answer, but Hossa has looked really good of late. If he can just score one goal in Game 5, maybe that's enough.

I appreciate the effort here, but I think I'm going to watch the Cubs-Giants game instead Wednesday.

I don't think your situation requires you to punish yourself, but to each his own.

 

Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveLozo.

All statistics via NHL.com or Extra Skater.

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