Sidney Brown brings his weekly dispatches from the front lines of Chicago Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Through the first two games of the Western Conference semifinal series between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild experience has been a prominent intangible for the Hawks.
With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way and each making the score sheet in the first two games, Chicago has gotten off to an ideal start with their stars jumping into the fray skates first. Toews scored a goal in Game 2’s convincing 4-1 win and Kane already has three goals, including a two-goal performance in Game 2.
In the playoffs, role players must step up and they have been front and center for the Men in Red. Bryan Bickell is scoreless so far in the series but he has been setting the tone physically with 23 hits combined in the first two games. Teuvo Teravainen, a nice addition filling in for Kris Versteeg, has collected two points including his first career playoff goal in Game 1, which turned out to be the game-winner.
Besides a forgettable second period in Game 1, Hawks goalie Corey Crawford has regained his form, posting a 2.00 Goals Against Average along with a .938 save percentage. Crawford’s best performance to date in the playoffs came in Game 2 with his giving up only one goal while making crucial saves down the stretch to preserve victory.
On the Wild side, I predicted before the series began that starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk would look human against the Hawks’ talented roster. Unlike St. Louis, the Hawks have got the better of Dubnyk, posting eight total goals and making the Minnesota goalie lose back to back games in regulation for the first time since joining the Wild in January.
More Tame Than Wild
Excluding the second period in Game 1, where the Wild tallied three goals, their offense has been non-existent so far. After posting a goal and an assist in Game 1, Wild superstar Zach Parise hasn’t posted a point since and Thomas Vanek, who tallied two assists in Game 1, was also shut out in Game 2.
If Minnesota wants to get back in this series, someone besides Parise must step up to score goals. It was the balance of their top two lines that contributed points in the upset series win against the Blues. The same formula has to be applied against the Hawks because Chicago’s strong defensive style can carry them for so long.
Defensively for both teams: after a horrible second period in Game 1, the Hawks have played well enough to gain control of this series, but giving up goals in bunches has been a problem in these playoffs — five times the Hawks have given up 3 goals or more in a period.
The Wild struggled in Game 1 but turned up the heat Sunday night, playing the Hawks tight and not allowing any space to operate early in the game. Still, the Hawks would eventually found cracks and piled up four goals in the later two periods.
Looking At Games 3 & 4
After protecting home ice, the Hawks must start fast to take the home crowd at the Xcel Energy Center right out these next games by setting the pace their way.
Also, Chicago must improve with its power play, which has been non0existent in this series (0-3). The Wild must carry out the game plan it played out from the first period of Game 2 and apply their offensive game to make the Hawks play on their heels.
Starting goalie Devan Dubynk must stand tall and be the difference in his team stealing a game or two if Minnesota wants to win this series. Can the Hawks reverse the trend from last year’s playoffs of losing Games 3 and 4 and put a stamp on this series? Or will the Wild make a statement and make this a competitive series?
Key Stats (Series)
Goals Against: MIN (2.40), CHI (2.27)
Penalty Kill: MIN (86.3), CHI (83.4)
Faceoff Percentage: MIN (49.9), CHI (52.0)
Goals: Patrick Kane (CHI), 3
Points: Patrick Kane (CHI), 3
Goals Against Average: Corey Crawford (CHI), 2.00
Game 3: Blackhawks at Wild, Tonight (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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