After going up two games to none in a series that everyone has expected the Chicago Blackhawks to win, Philadelphia once again find themselves on even ground with an opponent that they were counted out against.
The Flyers have played great hockey throughout this series, and their true colors are starting to shine as the Blackhawks falter under the weight of the expectations placed on them.
The Blackhawks are getting out-muscled, out-played, and out-performed in every zone and on every shift.
It's not too late to right the ship though. Here are a few things that the Chicago Blackhawks need to do to dominate the resurgent Flyers.
Be More Aggressive
The numbers don't tell the whole story. While Chicago has been posting alright numbers, they have lacked a sort of fire. The style of defense that Chicago plays is not the in-your-face physical "D" that Philly plays, but regardless, the Blackhawks need to step up their intensity.
The hitting has been lackluster. Good board checks have been few, and Philadelphia is countering position battles with good, physical board checking, as well as physical positioning.
The Hawks seem incapable right now of moving Philly around in the offensive zone. Dustin Byfuglien is getting clear out of the front of the cage easily by Chris Pronger. The team has to push back, or the remaining games will end like Game Four, with good scoring opportunities coming rarely, if at all.
Change the Lines
I know Joel Quenneville likes his lines, and I can't blame him. Toews, Kane, and Byfuglien are scary, or at least used to be. Philly has taken them out of the series, and forced the second and third lines to step up and score instead, which they have, but not enough to win games.
Coach Quenneville changed up the lines towards the end of the game tonight, and it really changed the dynamic out on the ice. By splitting Kane and Toews, Quenneville forced Peter Laviolette to choose who Pronger matched up against.
It was also refreshing to see Marian Hossa get the action that he deserves. While he may not be putting up Conn Smythe numbers, Hossa is everywhere on the ice, and he has put his heart and soul into this playoff run.
Come Out Firing
One of the things that Chicago has done really well in the past is they have come out in the first period and dominated the other team. Putting up a goal, or at least out-playing the other team, in the first period can change the momentum of an entire game.
If the Blackhawks don't come out firing on all cylinders in Game Five, don't expect them to come away with the win.
Don't Believe in the Hossa Curse
Marian Hossa is not cursed. Hossa is a monster on the ice, and his play has to be energizing the team. The players and the fans need to ignore this story that keeps coming up and believe in Hossa and the role he plays on the team.
This may be a broad statement, but the Blackhawks gave the puck up often in Game Four, and it cost them a lot, including the goal that iced the game.
There were also a lot of mental errors in the game. Bad penalties, bad passing, bad positioning, bad transitions, bad neutral zone play. The Hawks were killing themselves.
Back to the Basics
One of the Blackhawks' greatest advantages coming into the playoffs was their passing. They were considered experts at threading the needle and getting good shots from crisp, clean cross-ice passes.
It may be just a case of the jitters, but it is clear something has happened. The Blackhawks need to return to the fundamentals because they could do much better if they could consistently make good passes.
The Long and Short of Things
The Blackhawks stand on the edge here. They return to Chicago for a pivotal Game Five on Sunday. If they come out with a ton of energy and put Philly on their heels, the Blackhawks could start prepping the trophy room for the Stanley Cup.
However, if they come out the same way they have the last two games and continue to play complacent hockey, they could extend their Stanley Cup dry streak to 50 years.
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