By Adam Hoge-
UNITED CENTER (CBS) — It’s hard to be positive when you lose a 5-2 game that puts your team in a 3-1 series hole against the Kings in the Western Conference Final, but the Blackhawks are doing their best.
Tonight, they’ll return home in front of their own fans, where they have a 7-1 record this postseason. And on top of that, they have a strong third period in Los Angeles to build on.
“The third period (in Game 4) was a big momentum for us even though we lost the game,” winger Brandon Saad said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “I think we started to believe, and we started to feel good about ourselves. So I think having that last game, we can carry that over and use that confidence here tonight.”
It’s always a debate whether momentum carries over from game to game in the playoffs, but like Saad said, at the least, the strong third period made the Blackhawks feel good about themselves again. Up until that point, the Kings had pretty much dominated since the third period of Game 2.
Of course, if the Hawks are going to erase their current 3-1 deficit, they need to play that way the rest of the series. In that third period, they finally got back to their strong puck possession game, limiting turnovers, gaining the offensive zone and getting shots through to Jonathan Quick.
“It’s more little things,” Saad said. “Our systems have been set, and we do a good job with them, but I think lately our habits and doing the little things have gotten away from us and when we make turnovers and simple mistakes, they’re a skilled team and they’re a good team, so they capitalize on it. So if we take out the turnovers and the dumb penalties, we should have success.”
Start the block party
The Blackhawks may feel better offensively going into Game 5, but they still need to play much better defensively, especially on the penalty kill.
“You have to try to pressure their guys, especially on their entries and after shots,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “I think that’s one of the main things that we got to try to focus on going forward. They got too much time on the point to shoot it, and we got to do a better job of being in the shooting lanes, too.”
That last part is key. After blocking 25 shots in their Game 1 victory over the Kings, the Blackhawks have only blocked a total of 35 shots in the last three games — all losses.
“They’re getting too many shots through, for sure,” Hjalmarsson said. “We can do a better job with our positioning. That’s where it all starts in our own end. If you’re not in the right spots and they make one pass, then all the sudden you are running around.”
The lines in Wednesday’s morning skate looked like this:
Bryan Bickell — Jonathan Toews — Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad — Andrew Shaw — Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp — Michal Handzus — Kris Versteeg
Brandon Bollig — Marcus Kruger — Ben Smith
The most interesting line is probably the second line with Shaw centering Saad and Kane.
“We can be a big threat,” Saad said. “They put us together for a reason — to bring that energy along with some skill, so I think if we play our game and come out fast, we should do a good job.”
Adam Hoge covers the Bears and Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.