Sometimes, the playoffs are all about message sending and that's what Chicago Blackhawks' coach Joel Quenneville presumably had in mind as he deconstructed his team's performance in the first two games of the Vancouver Canucks' series, both losses.
The Blackhawks didn't get enough production from their top players and just in case anybody didn't hear Quenneville the first time, he made the point twice, reiterating what will be the overall theme heading into Sunday's third game of the best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final.
With Dave Bolland and Tomas Kopecky out with injuries for Friday night's 4-3 loss the Canucks at the Rogers Centre and the supporting cast long gone for salary-cap reasons, Quenneville loaded up his top line, putting Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on either side of team captain Jonathan Toews, a unit that on paper could be one of the most dangerous in the NHL. It left Michal Frolik to centre the second line alongside the Blackhawks' other scoring star, Patrick Kane, and from there, the scoring depth drops off in a hurry.
Strategically, you can understand what Quenneville is trying to do - give the Blackhawks a unit that can put up the same sort of scoring numbers the Sedin twins did in the second game. Just hasn't happened yet. Toews had a great rush in the early stages of the game, breaking right down the middle and getting in on Roberto Luongo, but he couldn't finish. Sharp, meanwhile, was jockeying for the NHL goal-scoring lead for much of the first half, but missed nine games down the stretch, recovering from injury. Sharp got back in for the final three games; insists he's fine, but has just the single goal since the first of March.
Ironically, the Blackhawks' secondary scoring stepped up the other night and did its part, with rookie Ben Smith contributing a pair of goals. But apart from Kane's assist on Viktor Stalberg's goal, the Blackhawks' big guns have been largely silent, which can't continue much longer, if Chicago wants to make a series of it - and ultimately push to defend the Stanley Cup they won last year.
"Guys like Benny Smith did what they had to do," said Quenneville. "Other guys need to step forward here. We need everybody. I still think we need everybody contributing - offensively, defensively, more offensive zone time. It's tough playing catch-up early in the game."
The only way to avoid that is to score first. Someone asked: Would playing with the lead make a difference?
"I'd like to find out," cracked Quenneville. "I think we'd be all right."
Quenneville made the point that the Canucks are no pushover: "They had a good year and there's a lot of reasons why they finished first. But I don't think we've played out best yet and we're going to have to play our best.
"We're going to need those guys offensively. We're definitely looking for production from them five-on-five and we need something off our power play as well."
On a dreary, wet and overcast day, which matched the mood of the team, the Blackhawks were counting on the move to the United Center - aka the Madhouse on Madison - to make a difference. Admittedly, it has provided a wonderful atmosphere over the last two playoff years. It's something Kane talked about - how the Blackhawks will get energy from their crowd the same way that Vancouver did in the first two games.
But home-ice hasn't been especially kind to the Blackhawks this season. They went 24-17-0 overall, good for the 10th best home record overall in the Western Conference and with their season on the line last weekend, lost a critical game to Detroit that put their playoff plans in jeopardy. Only a major upset later in the day, with the Minnesota Wild knocking off the Dallas Stars, put the Blackhawks into the playoffs, via the backdoor, in the first place.
Quenneville was crossing his fingers that the shift in venue would also help change the momentum, noting: "We have to take advantage of playing in front of our fans and get some enthusiasm that way and try to get the momentum back and keep it as long as we can."
Then he did what coaches always do at this time of year when their teams are on the ropes and stated the obvious:
"The next game is going to be huge for us."
Yup. Sure is.Report Typo/Error