CHICAGO – A blast from the blue line. A deflection in front of the net. A pivotal goal.
To most of us on the outside, the sequence happens so fast and seems so random.
What a lucky bounce! What a fortunate tip!
But in hockey, as in life, you usually have to work for your luck.
The Blackhawks did so Friday, rehearsing deflections again and again during an hour-long practice at the United Center. In pairs of two, a forward would skate to the front of the net while a defenseman stopped at the blue line and fired a line-drive shot for the forward to deflect.
Duncan Keith to Andrew Shaw. Brent Seabrook to Jonathan Toews. Niklas Hjalmarsson to Patrick Sharp. Johnny Oduya to Bryan Bickell. Seabrook again – this time to Michal Handzus. And on and on.
The Hawks hope all of that hard work pays off Saturday when they host the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. One perfectly timed deflection could be the key to unlocking the hard-fought series, which is tied at two games apiece with three of the four games going to overtime.
For those curious to learn, the Hawks are happy to shed light on the art of the deflection.
Step 1: The shot
Almost always, a deflection starts with a shot from the blue line. Typically, a defenseman is the one to take that shot. For the shooter, a fine line exists between being patient and missing an opportunity.
Forward Brandon Saad: Our defensemen do a great job of getting the puck through. They take that extra second, see where you’re at, and then they get the puck through. That’s the biggest part [of getting a deflection] is getting the puck to the net.
Defenseman Michal Rozsival: You try to be patient on the blue line. Because sometimes even though you have a shot, [if] there’s nobody in front of the net, shooting a wrist shot from the blue line is pretty much useless in this league against the goalies we have right now.
Defenseman Duncan Keith: If you take that extra second, sometimes the lane goes away. I think it’s just being confident and moving and just letting your instincts take over rather than maybe listening to somebody trying to tell you what to do. Just go out there and play.
Step 2: The deflection
The first step for deflecting a puck is to establish position in front of the crease. That’s not an easy job for Hawks forwards as opposing defenders slash, shove and crosscheck anyone loitering near the net. Knowing where to stand and when to extend one’s stick is important, as is the placement of the shot.
Forward Bryan Bickell: Nothing around the body. Anything around the stick is good. It’s harder to tip when you’re in front. The sides are better.
Forward Michal Handzus: You’ve got to react quick. They try to tie up your stick, too, so you’ve got to be able to do a lot of things. Whenever you protect your stick with your body, it’s way easier for you to get it.
Forward Andrew Shaw: Hand-eye coordination, it’s got to be good. It’s got to be there. Not everyone has it. It’s kind of a thing you work on. You get better over the year. I think personally I can get better. I just need to keep pushing myself. I think Jonathan Toews is one of the best guys at doing it.
Step 3: The follow through
If a deflection results in a goal, players go back and work on it during the next practice. If a deflection does not result in a goal, players go back and work on it during the next practice.
Saad: Deflections are a huge part of the game – especially with how good the goaltenders are at this stage of the game. You see big goals by Johnny [Toews] and in OT [by Shaw in Game 1]. They’re huge, and you’ve got to get better at them.
Bickell: If it’s there, we’re going to use it. We need to get in front of [Tuukka Rask] because he sees the puck well and he’s going to save a lot of them. I think that’s the way we can get to him.
Handzus: It’s a mix of everything. You’ve got to be fast, you’ve got to have good timing, everything. That’s why we try to practice because it’s not one thing. If it was one thing, then probably everybody would do it.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.