Five keys to another Blackhawks Stanley Cup run

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks are just a few days away from their eighth consecutive playoff appearance, with the opportunity of repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

It’s been a long 2015-16 season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. Dating back to the offseason there was the Patrick Kane controversy, and during the regular season the Blackhawks dealt with injuries to key players, went on a horrible stretch in the month of March and most recently the six-game suspension to Duncan Keith.

But it hasn’t been all bad. Despite the allegations, Patrick Kane has taken his game to a whole other level and leads all players in total points, rookie phenom Artemi Panarin has asserted himself as one of the best offensive players on the team and leads all rookies in goals, assists and points, and goalie Corey Crawford has had a career year winning 35 games and recording seven shutouts, according to NHL.com

With that being said, the Blackhawks will look to do something they have yet to accomplish in team history, to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.

These are five keys that I think need to happen if the Blackhawks are going to repeat as champions:

1. HEALTHY PLAYERS

If Chicago is going to repeat as champions, they need everyone to be healthy. During the regular season that has not been the case. They have had injuries to key players such as Marian Hossa, Corey Crawford, Marcus Kruger and most recently with Andrew Shaw and Artem Anisimov.

All five of these players play a key role in the success of this team. Hossa brings veteran leadership and has the ability to score, Crawford has been one of the best goalies in the league this season and is one of the key reasons the Blackhawks have surpassed 100 points, Shaw brings toughness and Anisimov and Kruger add depth at the center position.

The biggest concern for me is how Crawford is going to be in the net. He has not played since March 17, but head coach Joel Quenneville has already said that Crawford will start in the net in Game 1 of the playoffs. If he doesn’t play a game until the postseason, we might see some rust from him, but that’s normal. After all, its been almost a month since the last time he has seen action in a game.

Overall, this is the biggest key that has to happen. Health is key in every sport. If guys aren’t healthy, good luck winning, especially in the postseason. But if these five guys can suit up for the playoffs, the Blackhawks will be in good shape in the first round of the playoffs.

2. CONTRIBUTION FROM ANOTHER DEFENSEMAN

Last season the Blackhawks had four defenseman that played pivotal roles in the playoffs – those guys being Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.

Going into this postseason, Chicago has only three reliable defenseman – Keith, Seabrook and Hjalmarsson. Oduya signed a contract this past offseason with the Dallas Stars.

With Oduya now in Dallas, Chicago has relied on 24-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk to replace Oduya as the fourth defenseman.

But heading into Game 1 of the playoffs, van Riemsdyk most likely will see his minutes increase because of the absence of Duncan Keith. Last week Keith was thrown out of a game against the Minnesota Wild when he took his stick and swung it at Charlie Coyle, which cut his nose open. Keith received a six-game suspension from the league’s office, which leads into the playoffs where Keith will have to sit the first game.

Other guys will have to step up in Game 1 with Keith finishing up his suspension. Guys like van Riemsdyk, Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rozsival will have to contribute in his absence. But moving forward in the playoffs, one of these guys will have to step up and play big minutes like Oduya did last season. Having four reliable defenseman makes the goalie’s job a lot easier.

3. SECOND LINE TO KEEP PLAYING AT A HIGH LEVEL

After trading Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars and Brandon Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago knew they had to get offensive contribution from someone other than Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Luckily, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin have done just that.

Anisimov, who came to Chicago in the Brandon Saad trade, has been fantastic as the center on the second line. As for Artemi Panarin, the 24-year-old rookie has surprised everyone, including me, of his unbelievable play on the ice.

Having these two players on the same line as Kane has been the best decision Quenneville has made this season. Kane is on his way to his first MVP, Panarin is on his way to winning rookie of the year and Anisimov is having one of his best seasons as a professional hockey player.

When these three guys are on the ice together, it looks like they have been playing with each other for multiple seasons because of the chemistry that is there with all three of them. This second line has carried the offense this season and they will have to keep playing at a high level to get the Blackhawks to advance in each round.

4. TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS ON THE ROAD

As of now, it looks like the Blackhawks could begin the first round of the playoffs on the road, either against the Dallas Stars or St. Louis Blues.

If that’s the case, Chicago will have to win at least one game on the road in order to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Playing on the road has not been kindly to the Blackhawks this season. According to NHL.com, the Blackhawks road record is 21-15-4 and their home record is 26-11-3. Granted, the Blackhawks are above .500 on the road, but they are much better at home. And when you look at the Stars and Blues road records, they are much better on the road than the Blackhawks. Dallas is 22-12-7 and St. Louis is 24-11-5 on the road, according to NHL.com.

With that being said, both Dallas and St. Louis can easily come into Chicago and steal a game on the road. Winning away from the United Center will be pivotal for the Blackhawks this postseason.

5. SPECIAL TEAMS

My last key for success this postseason is special teams.

Special teams is key to winning in the playoffs because executing a power play and killing a penalty is the difference from winning and losing a series. Taking advantage of a power play is key because that is the only time when you have a greater chance of scoring a goal, with the fact that you have one more guy on the ice than the other team.

As for killing a penalty, that is equally as important as a power play because players have to play at a whole other level since they are one man down. Killing a penalty can easily pump a team up and get them back on track during the game.

According to NHL.com, Chicago is ranked second in the NHL in power play percentage, 23.3%. But on the other hand, they are 22nd when it comes to penalty kill percentage, 80.3%. And as for the Blues and the Stars, they are both ranked in the top 10 in power play percentage and penalty kill percentage.

Chicago should have no problem executing on the power play, however, they will have to step up when it comes to killing a penalty.

There you have it. My five keys for the Blackhawks.

It won’t be easy in the first round when they face either Dallas or St. Louis, but they have enough firepower to get the job down.

You can follow me on Twitter @rnickels26