WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
Lightning struck a second time as the Minnesota Wild dominated the Chicago Blackhawks again in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with a 4-2 victory in Game 4, tying the second round best-of-seven series at 2-2.
The Wild would not only receive a boost from their home crowd but from forward Matt Cooke, who returned from a suspension stemming from the Colorado series and made his presence felt right from the start in his first action against Chicago. Cooke assisted on the Wild’s first goal scored by Justin Fontaine at seven minutes, 24 seconds of the first period off a wrist shot, giving the home team a 1-0 lead.
The Hawks didn’t have much to offer in the opening period but they still found the back of the net courtesy of Patrick Sharp (19:21) to tie the score at 1-1 entering the first intermission. The Wild kept pressing in the second period and regained the lead just over three minutes into the second as Jason Pominville scored his second goal of the playoffs off a deflection. The Hawks fought back and tied things up at 2-2 a couple minutes later when Michal Handzus netted home his first goal of the playoffs off a tip in at 6:28, tying the game at 2-2.
This sequence of active scoring progressed and wound up favoring the Wild, who regained the lead for good courtesy of their Game 7 hero from the Colorado series, Nino Niederreiter, who scored his third goal of the playoffs off a snap shot (7:12). Hawks sniper Patrick Sharp had a chance to tie the game once more midway through the period but was denied by Ilya Brzygalov and the momentum began to sit firmly on the Wild’s side.
Minnesota put a strangle hold in the game in the 3rd period when Jared Spurgeon scored his third of the playoffs on a power play possession at 3:47 off a wrist shot, giving the Wild a 4-2 lead and the game its final score.
Don’t get upset with me Hawks die-hards, but we have to give Minnesota credit for taking advantage of home ice and dictating the pace right from the opening face-off, dominating in the categories of face-offs (34-25) and hits (22-7). Plus, the shots on goal category (31-20) for the Wild made the Hawks look like a junior hockey club. On most nights, the Hawks usually dominate on shots on goal, which results in victories, but so far its been 0-2 in the land of 1,000 lakes. Brzygalov had a solid performance again for the Wild, stopping 18 of 20 shots for a save percentage of .900. Brzygalov wasn’t tested much until the third period, but made enough key stops to preserve the win for his team.
On the other side, it was another rough day at the office for Corey Crawford, who collected 27 saves off 31 shots while posting a save percentage of .871. In spite the four goals, this loss should not be blamed on Crawford, factoring in more should be the lack of offense and intensity the Hawks’ have shown on the road this postseason.
It’s the Stanley Cup playoffs and anything can happen, but the Hawks should be up 3-1 in the series because of the overall talent on their roster compared to the Wild. With the lack of focus and energy at hand, the Wild — as it did in the Colorado series– took advantage of their home ice and now they have the belief that they can win this series. On paper, this shouldn’t be the case, but as the old saying goes, “that’s why they play the games.”
CHI — Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith tied for the team lead in blocked shots with 2 each.
CHI — Marian Hossa helped the offense with two assists.
MIN — Matt Cooke had a team lead in blocked shots (3).
MIN –– Defenseman Ryan Suter scored 2 assists.
MIN — Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise had one assist each.
CHI — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane combined for 0 points in this critical game.
CHI — Went 0 for 2 on the power play.
CHI –– 10 penalty minutes Friday night. Taking dumb penalties will cost you — i.e. Jared Spurgeon’s PP goal for the Wild in the third period.
Looking At Game 5
Now its a best 2-of-3 series, with the Hawks holding the home ice advantage. From its lack of energy to turning the puck over or simply taking the Wild likely, the Hawks can’t blame anyone but themselves for their current circumstance. Until the Hawks finish a game on the right side of the scoreboard again, the Wild have the advantage and all of the confidence in the world to think that they can pull off another upset in these playoffs.
We have seen this story before when the Hawks’ backs are against the wall — they respond with a surge. Although they are not trailing in this series, the Hawks’ll need to do it again and treat this opponent as if they are no lesser than the higher-seeded St. Louis Blues. Things are simple for the Wild, keep doing whatever is working.
Leading into Sunday’s Game 5 the questions are — can the Hawks feed off their home crowd and play better at the tail end of games than they did in Minnesota? Can the relatively quiet Kane and Toews combination start heating up their scoring again? Will Ilya Brzygalov bring his solid home play back on the road? And will the energy of Matt Cooke carry over on the road and help swing a tie series to his guys favor? We’ll find out the answers at the United Center Sunday night.
The Road Ahead (Series Schedule)
Game 5: May 11th, 8 PM (CNBC)
Game 6: May 13th, TBA
Game 7: May 15th, TBA *
*= If Necessary
Follow Regal Radio on Twitter @regalradio1 and on Facebook under Regal Radio and Sidney Brown on Twitter @sidkid80