As we all know, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks crushed the Minnesota Wild in the first two games in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. As we also all know however, this series is far from done. Both the Wild and Hawks overcame a two game deficit in their first round series this post season, and the Wild are 3-0 on their home ice thus far in the playoffs. So just as a two goal lead is not a lead in a playoff game, a two game lead in a playoff series isn’t really a lead either.
After getting drubbed by the Blackhawks in Chi-town the Wild will be looking to get some North Woods rejuvenation that helped them turn it around against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs, which means the Hawks can’t give them an inch. The good news is in addition to a two game lead in the series, the Blackhawks have gained a proven game plan for beating Minnesota. So in true “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” spirit, here are five keys to the Blackhawks winning Game 3 against the Wild:
#5 Get the First Goal (Again)
We all know the Blackhawks’ chances of winning the game greatly increase if they score the first goal, but for Game 3, drawing first blood has additional importance. Minnesota fans certainly can pack the Xcel Energy Center to rafters, and the Wild will be looking to feed off that energy to get some slingshot momentum right out of the gate. By scoring the first goal of Game 3, the Hawks can take Minnesota’s home crowd out of the equation early, and force the Wild to beat the Blackhawks through just their own moxie, which as we’ve seen in the first two games, hasn’t been up to the challenge.
#4 Keep the Captain & Co. Down
During his first two visits to the Madhouse on Madison in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, Zach Parise was a ghost. Ryan Suter wasn’t much of a factor either. Parise and Suter combined for just 13 shots on goal in the first two games of this series. Keeping the Wild’s two franchise fixtures off the score sheet is a double whammy for the Hawks because not only does it take a chunk out of Minnesota’s arsenal, but it also dents their morale by yet again suggesting the Wild aren’t getting a return on their sizable investment in these alleged superstar players. If the Hawks prevent Parise and/or Suter from having any impact on their home ice, good things will follow in this series.
#3 Keep Exploiting Ilya Bryzgalov
Needless to say, Ilya Bryzgalov is probably one of the least intimidating goaltenders the Blackhawks have ever come up against in their post season appearances over the past five years. Inserted back into the starting role in wake of Darcy Kuemper’s injury, Ilya Bryzgalov only has a .83 save percentage in five playoffs games. Confirmed as Game 3’s starter, Bryzgalov will be looking to gain some confidence on home ice after getting his pants pulled down in the first two games, and the Hawks need to make sure that doesn’t happen. Luckily as the league’s #1 offense all the Blackhawks have to do is be themselves.
#2 Keep Blocking Shots and Passing Lanes
Thus far this post season, Corey Crawford has been rock solid. As we all know, the way to beat a hot goaltender is to make him unlucky, and that usually comes by way of the ricochet goals. The Wild know this, which is why they have been teeing it up from the blue line and hoping for a goal or two off a body in the crease more often than not. Fortunately the Blackhawks have recognized this and have done an incredible job of neutralizing the threat. In the first two games of this series, the Hawks have a total of 25 blocked shots. Not to mention the Hawks D is keeping the passing lanes full of sticks in the Wild’s offensive zone. The results speak for themselves. After being brilliant against the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the post season, it’s good to see Crawford’s defensemen returning the favor in the second.
A friend of mine told me after the Hawks’ Game 2 victory against the Wild he’s buying a Bryan Bickell jersey just to wear during the playoffs. It’s funny because it’s true. While Bicks has been an expensive regular season player this year, once again in the post season he’s been worth his weight in gold, so here’s hoping Bickell’s beast mode is here to stay. The bigger story perhaps is the surging Brandon Saad. Saad tallied two goals in the last game against the Wild (one being an empty netter) and looked damn good in the process. If Saad can keep up this kind of play, the Hawks lower six forwards will have an offensive lighting rod to rally around, and that’s good news considering the bottom two lines of the Blackhawks are a bit in flux at the moment with the injury of Andrew Shaw. If Saad can emerge as a keystone in the lower lines, the Blackhawks will have an even more solid offensive foundation going forward.
Above all else, the Blackhawks need to keep taking the Wild seriously. This will be their bigger challenge tonight considering how they’ve clobbered Minnesota thus far in the series. The Wild are all but cornered on their home ice, and that makes them dangerous. Once again, the Hawks need to play Blackhawks hockey all three periods, and keep demonstrating why they’re the defending Stanley Cup champs.
FOR THE DAGGER!