News and notes ahead of Saturday's pivotal Game 4 of the Western Conference Final in Chicago (8 EDT, NBC).
The playoffs are all about adjustments. The ability of a team to read changing circumstances and respond appropriately can be the difference in a tight series.
Of course, not every adjustment pays off. Case in point: Chicago coach Joel Quenneville's lineup changes ahead of Game 3
Looking for a different mix on his bottom six after a grueling Game 2, he benched Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette, and added Kris Versteeg to a new-look third line alongside Andrew Shaw (promoted from the fourth) and Patrick Sharp. Joakim Nordstrom joined Andrew Desjardins and Marcus Kruger on a revamped fourth line.
“When we look at making decisions … [Game 3] was going to be our most challenging game energy-wise after the tough [triple-overtime] game we had in Game 2,” Quenneville said. “We felt that trying utilize our depth that [Versteeg and Nordstrom] could give us some energy and some speed. As it turned out, we didn’t win the game.”
More to the point, he got nothing from those new lines. Both revamped units were largely ineffective with the fourth turning into a possession black hole.
No surprise then that Quenneville said Vermette and Teravainen “could play” against the Ducks on tonight. In Q speak, that means they'll both be back in the lineup.
Teravainen could be the key here. The young forward has been borderline effective throughout the playoffs, but brings a high-end skill level that goes well beyond anything Versteeg or Nordstrom could offer. With the Hawks struggling to score, he could be employed more often for offensive-zone opportunities.
The most noticeable stat to come out of Game 3? The Ducks blocked 27 of Chicago's 67 shot attempts, allowing just 28 to get through to Frederik Andersen.
That's a testament to Anaheim's defensive commitment. But it also suggests the Hawks might have been guilty of slow decisions and of making one pass too many in search of the pretty play, allowing the Ducks extra time to shut down the shooting lanes.
“I think [we] played a little too much on the perimeter, trying to make too many plays,” forward Brandon Saad said Friday. “I think when we delay the play, wait to find the perfect shot, they get a chance to get in the lane.”
More pucks to the net will be the mantra for Chicago tonight, but getting them there quickly could be the real key to their success.
The second most noticeable stat? Simon Despres led the Ducks with just over 23 minutes of ice. Acquired at the trade deadline from the Penguins for his potential, Despres has quickly established himself as a huge part of the team's present. He's provided a solid physical presence along with surprising five-on-five offense, chipping in seven points at even strength, second among the team's defenders during the postseason.
But it's his work in the defensive end where Despres has earned his keep. Routinely criticized in Pittsburgh for his rushed (and often inaccurate) reads, he's been surprisingly steady in his own zone despite having to play on his off-side to accommodate partner Cam Fowler. The two have earned the trust of coach Bruce Boudreau, handling the toughest assignments and the biggest moments. It was no accident that Despres for the defensive zone draw in the final minute of Anaheim's 2-1 Game 3 win, or that he was the player who interfered with Patrick Kane just enough to force his dramatic tying attempt to miss the target.
Despres likely won't top the time charts tonight--expect veteran Francois Beauchemin to handle up on the big minutes for this one--but the fact that he could emphasizes the edge that defensive depth affords Anaheim in this series. And the deeper it goes, the more pronounced that advantage will be.