Blackhawks look to take control of playoff series with Phoenix - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Blackhawks look to take control of playoff series with Phoenix

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Blackhawks find themselves in a very advantageous position even though the series is tied at one game apiece. We haven't seen the best from the Hawks, and that shouldn't bode well for the Coyotes.

The Hawks will be playing on home ice for the next two games but thus far, they haven't played that great in total. There have been flashes of solid, effective effort but it hasn't been sustained. The Coyotes have had something to do with the inconsistency but there is no doubt the Hawks can ramp things up to another level. Tuesday night is the time to shake the will of the Coyotes.

Corey Crawford has played well enough to win both games. His performance in Game 2 exceeded goalie Mike Smith's effort and should bolster Crawford's confidence. By scoring four times on Saturday, including another last second third period tally, the Hawks should be riding high. The Blackhawks will be charged up by a capacity United Center crowd but must avoid being too emotional and becoming undisciplined. So far, except for the Andrew Shaw fiasco, the Hawks have kept their discipline.

Smith hasn't appeared shaken but he hasn't really been a difference maker so far. The Coyotes have done a fine job of frustrating the top Blackhawk scorers. Fortunately the Hawks depth was the difference on Saturday. If Crawford can build on the last two games he might be able to get on a nice run.

This is the time for the Blackhawks to put the hammer down and steamroll the Coyotes. It will only happen by having more passion and "want to" than Phoenix. The table is set for the Hawks to break the will of the Coyotes, who probably feel like they should have won both of their home games. If the Hawks could control Tuesday night's contest and come away with a convincing victory, some doubt may enter the collective psyche of the Coyotes.

The Blackhawks have issues but they are also an extremely competitive group with high-end talent.

To be successful in the playoffs it boils down to having the will to overcome. For the Hawks, that would mean winning despite a poor power play. In addition, despite losing too many faceoffs and not blocking enough shots the Hawks must find a way to succeed. Careless turnovers have to be limited as do soft goals and if they occur they can't be the reason for a loss. It all sounds easy but that is hardly the case, but the Blackhawks are in a position to succeed and they should embrace the challenge.

If what has been worked on in practice this week holds true for Tuesday night's game, Joel Quenneville plans on changing line combinations.

It didn't make a lot of sense to play Jonathan Toews with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. Those three have never really meshed well in the past and Kane was forced to play his third position of the season, left wing. Now it appears Kane will go back to center between Hossa and Andrew Brunette. Toews would then center a line of Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Sharp.

Stalberg is coming off a nice game, and hopefully Sharp will get hot. Hossa has played well in spurts but more is needed from him. Hopefully Toews continues to stay healthy and it would seem likely his faceoff skills will get sharper. It would be better in my view if Brunette wouldn't dress, but Quenneville is reluctant to change a winning lineup. Dave Bolland will stay on with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw. If Shaw is suspended, the verdict will be out later Tuesday, then Michael Frolik should get a turn to play. Bolland and Bickell are coming off very good performances.

The defensemen should remain the same as in Game 2 with Sami Lepisto getting another start. Unfortunately, Lepisto apparently still hasn't gained the trust of the coaching staff. He played only a total of nine shifts which amounted to 4:25 of ice time.

The playing time for Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook was higher than usual. Both played over 31 minutes and we will see how long they can stand that type of workload. Overtime games or not, the ice time needs to be more evenly distributed before the Hawks top two defenders run out of gas. Fortunately there was an extra day off between games.

The Coyotes had only one defenseman, Ekman-Larsson, who played close to 28 minutes while the rest were in the 21-22 minute range. As the series goes on, the better balance for Phoenix may give them an edge.

It is possible the Hawks can avoid a great deal of fatigue if they take care of business Tuesday and on Thursday. The best of the Blackhawks would have to shine through. They would have to bring a strong work ethic and avoid becoming a one dimensional perimeter team.

The Blackhawks have played four consecutive overtime games including last year's series versus Vancouver. There is no better time to win a game in regulation and possibly have a wider margin of victory.

It will take more than luck but one can't ignore the Blackhawks have been blessed with some good fortune.

Chicago is the only NHL team to tie back to back playoff games with less than 15 seconds left in regulation. Plus Bryan Bickell, who has caught the ire of Hawk fans throughout the season for not living up to expectations, came through in Game 2 in a big way. Bickell not only scored the game winner and Hawks opening marker but he also set a personal record. Bickell had never scored more than one goal in any NHL game until Saturday.

It will take more than rare occurrences to defeat a Coyotes team which has played consistently in both games. The best from the Blackhawks is better than that of the Coyotes but it won't matter unless they bring the required effort. Phoenix will look to continue to frustrate the Hawks and take advantage of mistakes.

The Blackhawks have gone a sparkling 7-1 in the last eight post-season games played at the United Center. Now, they have put themselves in a position to take control of this series.

Al's Shots

The verdict on Andrew Shaw receiving a fine or suspension for making contact with goaltender Mike Smith will come down Tuesday.

Most likely the Blackhawks will find out by mid-day if Shaw will be able to perform Tuesday night. Smith didn't practice Monday and maybe that was a reason for Brendan Shanahan to wait a day longer. It appears Smith is fine and only had a day off, so the delay might be because Shanahan is very busy.

If Smith is hurt and can't play Tuesday night, Shaw will most likely be forced to sit out for at least one game. If Smith is healthy my view is Shaw shouldn't face a suspension. Trying to have a logical discussion concerning the NHL's disciplinary process is like arguing about what lottery numbers should be played.

Shaw was wrong to make contact with the goalie but there didn't appear to be any malicious intent. Unless Shaw has gone to a school for professional wrestlers, having a flying head butt isn't in his repertoire.

Shaw already missed part of the last contest due to a hurried game misconduct penalty. Shaw was banished from the game even though Smith didn't miss a shift and wasn't prompted to go off the ice for concussion testing. Smith stayed down on the ice for a long time but wasn't forced to spend 15 minutes or so in the "quiet room" and then be examined.

Not sure how that could be possible but what I am sure of is the NHL is in a precarious position.

The sport is getting more TV exposure than ever before at the most exciting time of the season, which should be great. The issue is the on ice product. Although there are exciting games, the behavior from players is an embarrassment to the sport.

In many playoff games there has been absolutely no respect shown to officials, as players are diving and embellishing penalties so often it is a joke. Now would be the time to hand out automatic 10 minute misconducts for anyone caught flopping on the ice and considered to be acting.

Too often referees have lost control and the top cop Shanahan is in a no-win situation. There are so many inconsistencies involved in officiating, the NHL rule book and the suspension process Shanahan is in a position to fail rather than succeed.

Back on November 12, 2011, the Bruins Milan Lucic ran directly into Buffalo goal keeper Ryan Miller while chasing down a loose puck. Lucic never tried to slow up to avoid Miller and came up with his arms and collided with the Sabres number one goalkeeper. Miller received a concussion on the play and Lucic did not receive a suspension.

Comparatively, the act by Lucic was far greater than what Shaw did to Smith. An infraction should be punishable no matter what time of the season. To say standards should be tougher during the playoffs just adds another variable to an already cloudy system.

If Shaw gets even a one game suspension, in comparison, Lucic should have been handed at least a 20-game sit-down. We will discuss Shanahan's verdict Wednesday, as losing Shaw would hurt the Hawks.

Follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia

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