Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
After each surviving tough first round series from division foes in Nashville and St. Louis, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild each bring sizable amounts of baggage back to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs as these ever-familiar foes meet for the third time in the last three playoff seasons.
The Hawks hold the edge, winning both previous times the Wild franchise (Minnesota as the North Stars certainly had a history with Chicago in the postseason) skated against them with playoff advancement on the line.
Competition has risen between these Central Division rivals over the past couple years and it may be at a fever pitch this time around as both teams finished with 100 standing points in the regular season (Hawks 102 points, Wild 100 points) placing them competitively behind division champ St. Louis and Nashville respectively.
No matter the time of the season Minnesota and Chicago has met this season the games were played at a playoff-type pitch, these rivals just do not give each other much of an edge. Here’s a look at the head to head numbers across five regular season match-ups:
2014-15 Regular Season Series
Record: CHI (3-2), MIN (2-3)
Goals Scored Per Game: CHI (2.8), MIN (2.0)
Power Play Percentage: CHI (8.2), MIN (7.1)
Penalty Kill Percentage: CHI (92.9), MIN (81.8)
In this series the Hawks’ overall speed will contend with the Wild’s balance of a surging young offense to match their strong defense. Position by position, who has the edge in this year’s confrontation?
Hawks captain Jonathan Toews leads the way and is second in playoff scoring with 3 goals and 5 assists and not far behind is partner in crime Patrick Kane with 2 goals and 5 assists shaking off rust from his regular season injury.
Patrick Sharp has picked up the slack after a sub par regular season netting home 3 goals and 2 assists playing on the 3rd line. Other forwards who must step up to help their stars are Bryan Bickell (2 assists), who has owned the Wild in the playoffs the last two years, Andrew Shaw (2 assists) and Marian Hossa (5 assists).
The Wild offense starts and end with sniper Zach Parise who’s off to a hot start with 7 points (3G,4A) and his 1st line mates have helped carrying the load in Jason Pominville (2G,3A) and Mikael Granlund (G,4A) who were major factors in defeating the Blues in six games.
Don’t overlook Minnesota’s 2nd line with Nino Niederreiter (3G), Mikko Koivu (G,2A) and Chris Stewart (2A). Rounding up the bottom line mates who are expected to add depth to keep the top two Hawks scoring lines at bay are Jason Zucker, Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke, Charlie Coyle, Thomas Vanek and Justin Fontaine.
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith set the tone for the Hawks but since not being paired together, their line partners play in Michal Rozsival and Kimmo Timonen have not helped matters. Constantly turning pucks over along with skaters just speeding past them has hurt Seabrook and Keith making their jobs much harder.
Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarrson help form an already aging defensive core. This group must contain the Wild at all costs and with the Wild’s speed, Minnesota will have the opportunity to make this series a horse race.
Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin head the top defensive pairing for the Wild and this pair played a major role in shutting down the St. Louis Blues top scoring lines including blocking a combined 15 shots.
The second pairing are lead by Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella who scored two big goals in the upset win over the Blues while blocking 12 shots himself. The third pairing of Matt Dumba and Jordan Leopold will be asked to keep the Hawks third and fourth lines in check.
Penalty Kill Percentage: CHI (72.9), MIN (81.8)
Power Play Percentage: CHI (15.8), MIN (33.3)
While the Wild’s special teams units are clicking on all cylinders, they will have a great chance to add to the Hawks penalty kill struggles which has plagued them since the end of the regular season carrying over to the opening round series against Nashville allowing six power play goals.
Parise led the Wild in 11 power play goals during the regular season and the momentum continued for this unit scoring four times with their man advantage. The Hawks compiled three goals with their power play, but they must be more aggressive creating traffic and piling up multiple scoring chances via Bickell and Shaw.
A merry go round circle of goalie chances came to ahead in Game 6 against Nashville when Corey Crawford stopped all 13 shots he faced for the series clinching win.
Backup Scott Darling showed that belonged on the big stage after the Game 1 victory over Nashville, but by the end of the series he came back to Earth with tough performances in the final couple games. Darling posted a 2.21 goals against average and a save percentage of .936.
As the series begins, it will be the experience of Crawford that will lead the way in net and as of now, the job is his. Corey posted a 1-1 record with a 4.19 goals against average along with a .850 save percentage.
Devan Dubnyk has been the feel good story for the Wild all season long basically saving their season after being traded from the Arizona Coyotes at the trade deadline in March.
After being pulled in the Game 4 loss against St. Louis, Dubnyk made 66 saves on 68 shots in Games 5 and 6 to help eliminate the Central Division champion Blues in six games. Dubnyk’s playoff stat line reads like this — 2.32 goals against average and a .913 save percentage and with his confidence growing after every win, Devan can steal a game or two making the Hawks take notice and perhaps play on their heels.
Goal scoring should come at a premium as both teams display the top skaters in the league with speed and skill. With the Wild holding a slight edge in goal tending, nerves may come into play for Dubnyk in facing a top tier roster which should even things out for the Hawks.
This series will come down to the Hawks cleaning up their mistakes defensively and not allowing the Wild to dictate the pace. Will the Hawks experience and overall roster balance carry the day? Or will the third time be the charm for a Wild team that has improved in the last three years?
PREDICTION: Hawks in 7.
Hawks Playoff Leaders:
Points: Jonathan Toews (8)
Goals: Jonathan Toews (3)
Assists: Jonathan Toews (5)
Penalty Minutes: Andrew Shaw (32)
Goals Allowed Average: Scott Darling (2.22)
Team Playoff Statistics:
Goals Per Game: 3.17 (3rd in NHL)
Goals Allowed: 3.50 (15th in NHL)
Power Play Percentage: 15.8 (9th in NHL)
Penalty Kill Percentage: 72.7 (13th in NHL)
Game 1: Wild at Blackhawks, Tonight (8:30 p.m., NBCSN)
Game 3: Blackhawks at Wild, Tuesday, May 5 (7 p.m., NBCSN)
Game 4: Blackhawks at Wild, Thursday, May 7 (8:30 p.m., NBCSN)
*-Game 5: Wild at Blackhawks, Saturday, May 9 (TBD)
*-Game 6: Blackhawks at Wild, Monday, May 11 (TBD)
*-Game 7: Wild at Blackhawks, Wednesday, May 13 (TBD)
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