If the Philadelphia Flyers are planning to use their home ice as a launching pad to get back in the series, they might have to think twice about it. The Blackhawks are road warriors this postseason, having won a NHL record-tying seven consecutive games away from home. They’ll try to set the record with eight in a row on Wednesday.
Here are five reasons that make them so good on the road:
Mentality: There is a saying in hockey when you go on the road: Prepare to win a 1-0 game. At home, sometimes, the Hawks look like they are preparing to win a 5-0 game, but on the road they have subscribed to the saying -- at least since midway through the Nashville series. How does that translate on the ice? Fewer turnovers, more focus on changing on the fly, and reacting to opportunities rather than taking chances to create them. In short, they have been better mentally prepared on the road than at home this postseason.
Goaltending: Whether by coincidence or not, Antti Niemi has had his best games on the road. This even extends back to the regular season, when he won in Vancouver, Pittsburgh, Detroit (twice) and several other of the tougher venues in the league. In the playoffs, he shined in Nashville, where Shea Weber and Jason Arnott were firing pellets during a 5-on-3 power play, and in San Jose he faced 45 shots to open the series, and won. Vancouver didn’t turn out to be as tough as it first looked to be, but he held his own winning an unthinkable three games there in one series.
Coaching: Watching the mass fire drills the Hawks go through in trying to get the right matchup on the road has been a thing of beauty. There were very few times, seemingly, that the Sedins or Joe Thornton didn’t see Dave Bolland on the ice in their own rink. Aren’t the home teams supposed to get the matchups they want? It appears the Hawks are getting it as much on the road as they are at home. That takes communication and awareness, and that comes from coaching. It’s been outstanding.
Leadership: Almost everything written above can be attributed to the Hawks’ great leadership. It’s not something that happens overnight, and not all the credit goes to Joel Quenneville and Jonathan Toews. By all accounts, John Madden has stepped up in the playoffs and Patrick Sharp is a go-to guy as well. Dealing with whatever trials and tribulations (and temptations) the road presents isn’t always easy, and the Hawks have handled the postseason with relative ease. Whether it’s an extremely hostile environment in Vancouver or a week-long stay in San Jose, they’ve shown the proper dedication and respect the playoffs demand.
Mario Kart: The Hawks aren’t the first team to bond on the road, but there can’t be many that have done it better. From Finland, to an eight-game road trip, to a week in San Jose, there has been plenty of time for bonding and sometimes fighting. But just like real brothers, none of it extends beyond the moment or the next Wii contest. If it takes wrestling matches, video games, and championship belts -- to keep guys engaged -- then so be it. Bottom line: this team likes to win and have fun on the road. They’ve done both this postseason.