suntimes
MEDIOCRE 
Weather Updates

Whether it’s pace, speed, intensity, Blackhawks just need to play better

Updated: May 11, 2014 10:48PM



Back in the lineup — thrust right up to the top line, in fact — after being a healthy scratch for the second time in four games, Kris Versteeg was asked if he needed to play with more pace, and he said he did.

Then he was asked what exactly “pace” meant, and, well, he wasn’t entirely sure.

“You know more than me, maybe,” Versteeg said. “I think it’s just play faster, and play faster with the puck.”

Throughout this second-round series with the Minnesota Wild, Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has talked about “pace.” He wants the Hawks to play with more of it. Joakim Nordstrom is in the lineup because he has it. And it’s the key to solving the Wild’s trap-like, high-pressure defense.

Whatever it is.

“We just need to play with pace,” Jeremy Morin said. “If we play with pace, we’ll be all right.”

The fact is, “pace” is something of a catch-all for a number of problems that have plagued the Hawks as a 2-0 series lead became a 2-2 series tie entering Sunday night’s Game 5 at the United Center.

For Jonathan Toews, it’s about intensity.

“Again, we didn’t match their intensity,” Toews said after Game 4. “We have plenty of offensive talent, guys that can make plays. And if we’re working to get those pucks back, we’re going to create chances. We don’t have to worry about that. It starts at the bottom, the foundation of our game. We’re turning pucks over too easy, we’re not getting pucks deep in their zone, you can go on and on down the list of things we need to improve on. The shots are going to come when we start playing better as a five-man unit.”

For Duncan Keith, it’s about pure speed.

“It just comes back to the same thing: We have to use our speed,” he said. “[In Game 4] they were faster than us. We have a lot of speed and we have to turn the page on these past two games.”

For Quenneville, it’s about desperation and desire.

“We have to have an attitude where [we play with] that desperation right through puck areas — first the pucks — first the pucks, right through people. And I think that’s the difference in generating scoring chances or generating some offense, that’s what we need. Be it in our own end or on the attack, we have to be grittier. We don’t want to change too much technically how we want to play. I think it comes down to the one-on-one battles and being stronger in the puck areas.”

They all fall under the same umbrella. Without the intensity and the speed and the desperation in the two games in St. Paul, the Hawks were unable to get through the neutral zone without getting bogged down, or worse, losing the puck. Just to even get the puck in the offensive zone, they largely eschewed high-speed entries and stretch passes for dump-ins, then were outworked for the puck in the corner once they got there. And on the few occasions they did get shots off — they’ve had 22 or fewer shots on goal in each of the first four games of the series — they didn’t create much traffic to make things difficult on Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.

“We need to play with high speed, like we usually do,” Marcus Kruger said. “That’s something we haven’t really found in this series. Then we need to have traffic at the net, [because] then it’s easier to shoot.”

The Hawks need to dictate the tempo and style of the game. That means playing with speed. And that means ratcheting up the intensity. And that means working a lot harder than they did in Games 3 and 4.

You can use any term you want. The Hawks simply need to be better.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.