Tomorrow night, Lord Stanley’s Cup will be in Philadelphia for the Blackhawks to take home, if they want it enough. I can tell you from personal experience (see Exhibits A and B, below) that the NHL’s top prize is quite impressive in person. I can only imagine what it’s like to lift it – or eat Cheerios out of it.
There are five things I think the Blackhawks must do (and a few they absolutely cannot do) to win Game 6.
- Stay out of the penalty box. I understand what his job is, but Dave Bolland can neutralize Mike Richards without starting a one-man parade to the box. 30 PiM this postseason is a few too many. Everyone else must stay out of the sin bin too. There’s no reason a guy like Marian Hossa should have 23 minutes of penalty time. Smart, disciplined hockey is going to win against Philly. Don’t work harder, boys: work smarter.
- The Blackhawks must put serious pressure on the Flyers in the first five minutes of the game. Even if it doesn’t result in a goal, the Hawks need to be putting the puck on the net early and often. Philly fans are brutal, so take them out of the game. Also, we’ve seen how much Michael Leighton’s confidence can be shaken with sustained, early pressure. Get in his head and make Laviolette swap him for Boucher.
- Hit Chris Pronger. A lot. Hard. Work him over like a dime-store piñata. Taking Pronger out of his game means the Blackhawks offense has more time and space. Philadelphia has a weak defensive core. Make it weaker by making Prongs think twice about playing the puck. It worked in Game 5; it will work again.
- Carry the puck cleanly out of the defensive zone. Do not give the Flyers a chance at an easy shot on goal off a lazy turnover at the blue line. If there’s not a clean outlet pass, circle back and wait for a safer chance. Niemi will probably make the stop on a dumb turnover play, but why make him work that hard?
- Make the puck do the work for you. During the regular season, the Hawks were one of the fastest teams in the league because they could make laser-fast, hyper-accurate passes. By making the puck do the work for you, you exploit another of Philly’s weaknesses: slow skating. The Blackhawks are the faster team, when they’re passing well. Stick with the basics, boys.
Of course, there’s about a hundred other things I could mention that the Blackhawks need to do, but the five I listed above are the most critical to coming home with some serious silver hardware.
In the end, it’s going to be an intense, physical hockey game. The Flyers have proven they are a tenacious team. Don’t expect for a moment that Game 6 will look anything like Game 5. Don’t expect for a moment that a win is guaranteed. We’ll see what happens when the puck drops. Until then, remain committed to the Indian. Remain committed to the Cup.
P.S. For the record, that is totally the real Stanley Cup. And no, I didn’t actually touch it. But I really wanted to.