The fourth game of the Stanley Cup Finals is on Friday night, and the Blackhawks have one area of enormous concern that needs to improve if they want a chance to clinch their first Stanley Cup championship since 1961 at home on Sunday.
It’s not their power play, which is 0-6 in the series.
It isn’t the lack of production from their top line, as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien have combined for just one goal and three assists in the first three games.
It isn’t Chris Pronger, either.
The Blackhawks need to improve their offensive pressure in the third period to get a win on the road on Friday night.
In these playoffs, the Blackhawks have eliminated some very good teams despite a disturbing trend in the third periods of games. Starting with Game Two of the Vancouver series (remember they blew the Hawks out in Game One and Cristobal Huet saw action), the Blackhawks have allowed a disturbingly high number of shots in the third periods of games.
Against Vancouver, the Blackhawks allowed just 30.9 percent of their allowed shots on net (8.8/gm) in the third period. That number increased to 34.6 percent of their shots allowed against San Jose coming in the third period (11.75/gm). Against Philadelphia, the Blackhawks have allowed 12.3 shots per game in the third periods, which is over 38 percent of the shots they’re allowing per game. In Games Two and Three, the Blackhawks have allowed 15 shots in each third period and only escaped with a win from Game Two because of a legendary performance from Antti Niemi.
In the Finals, the Hawks are only averaging six shots per game in the third period including the overtime period from Game Three.
Michael Leighton has struggled against the Blackhawks in the Finals, giving up a number of cheap goals (including Ben Eager’s game-winner in Game Two) and obviously getting pulled from Game One. He has only brought an .863 save percentage to the table in the first three games.
The key for the Blackhawks winning two more games and lifting the Stanley Cup as the champions of the NHL is putting more pressure on Leighton from everywhere on the ice. It doesn’t matter how pretty the shots are or how many passes the Hawks have before the puck is directed at the net, they simply need to put more shots at Leighton and force him to steal a third period the way Niemi did in Game Two. He has been vulnerable in the series, but an average netminder can look great when only facing six shots in 20 minutes.