Before the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Blackhawks made a few changes (again) to their lineup. Dustin Byfuglien moved back to the fourth line, and Adam Burish moved back to the bench. Jordan Hendry skated on the third defensive pair with Brent Sopel.
When we discussed the move of Byfuglien back to the blue line, the obvious benefit of his 250-pound frame in front of Roberto Luongo was clear. However, our concern was that the chemistry that worked so well in winning three straight games against Nashville was being compromised by making such a radical, albeit a “back to where we started,” move.
The Blackhawks needed a spark, and found it when coach Joel Quenneville inserted Bryan Bickell and Burish into the lineup in the first round. The first game against Vancouver saw the same lackluster, emotionless Blackhawks team that had looked like hot garbage in the first three games against Nashville; removing Burish from the lineup appears to have been the catalyst.
Now, pinning the sloppy play from most of the forwards and miserable efforts from Sopel and Hendry on the lack of Burish would be overstating the value of a fourth line center/wing. However, the trickle-down effect on the roster was clear. Quenneville was skating five defensemen from the initial puck drop on Saturday night, with Niklas Hjalmarsson spending time with both Brian Campbell and Sopel and Hendry skating only every third or fourth shift. Campbell led the team in ice time, but a lot of that can be attributed to the five-goal deficit the Hawks were facing at the start of the third period; Campbell and Duncan Keith skated too many minutes in the third as the Hawks made an empty attempt to keep more fans from leaving the building early.
If Burish is indeed in the lineup on Monday night and Byfuglien is moved back to the blue line, the final score will be the indicator of whether or not Burish truly is the catalyst for the Hawks anemic offense. Burish is every bit the agitator that the Hawks were hoping to get from Byfuglien, but his hockey IQ and ability to play both the center and win position provide more flexibility to the team.
The Hawks were bad in the faceoff circle in Game One as well, so adding another option to take an occasional draw is also a good idea.
For all of the rhetoric that was thrown around during the first round series about “must-win” games, the Blackhawks have not played a more important game in the last 15 years of the organization’s history. The talent differential between the Blackhawks and Predators was enough that the Hawks were able to get away with not playing their best hockey in that series and still stole the series. That is not the case with the Olympian-filled Vancouver roster. If the Blackhawks have any chance of winning this series, or the Stanley Cup, then Game Two is absolutely a must-win game.