Game 4: last gasp or first glimpse?
April 20, 2017, 9:10 AM ET [270 Comments]
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Western Conference Quarterfinal
Nashville leads 3-0
Chicago Blackhawks at Nashville Predators
NBCSN/CSN Chicago/FS Tennessee
For Chicago fans, this game has an eerie sense of “how did we get here?”
It was one thing to think that the Blackhawks could lose this series, but really who expected to be on the verge of getting swept out of the playoffs by Nashville in the first round? But that’s why they play the games—and how teams like Nashville ascend and transcend their past—and teams like the Hawks become more like every other team.
Maybe the Hawks win one tonight and take the series back to Chicago for a game 5. The first three games of this series give you the sense, however, that putting together 60 minutes of what’s necessary to beat the Preds—especially in their building—is a tall order.
And on that note, whether the Hawks bow out tonight (or at some later date, if they bow out, which is not pre-destined), maybe this game provides a brief glimpse of what’s to come for the Hawks this summer and next year.
Because the only significant lineup change for the Hawks appears to be the insertion of Michal Kempny in place of Johnny Oduya. I’ve discussed the possibility here in recent days—including all the pros and cons.
Maybe Kempny or some other factor helps the Hawks turn this series around. Maybe the Hawks win a game or two yet, which would be great. But most likely, the Kempny Story picks up again next year—in the absence of Oduya and likely Brian Campbell.
Kempny’s rookie season has been up and down. He’s made a pretty fair share of positioning mistakes. But he is arguably also the best pure athlete (today) on the Hawk blueline. He gets to pucks that Trevor van Riemsdyk and Campbell can only dream of at this point. He can shoot the puck and hit, and when he makes mistakes, he has the speed to correct them (sometimes).
What Kempny has is something the Hawks need more of up and down the lineup: a combination of speed, physical ability, adequate size and a willing, heavy playing style, qualities that the Blackhawks have been sorely lacking in these playoffs.
Fact is, you have a lot more leeway and room for error, letting a Richard Panik marinate for most of the season on Jonathan Toews’ wing than you do at one of your blueline positions with a guy like Kempny. So there’s a reason his development has been slower and more sporadic than the typical forward.
But the basic profile of Panik and Kempny (and Ryan Hartman for that matter) is quite similar. And it is something the Hawks need more of next year, if not right now, mistakes and learning curve be damned.
For that reason, next year, and (why not?) right now, Kempny needs to play.
I’ll recap tomorrow.