May 6, 2014; Saint Paul, MN, USA; Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews (19) protects the puck from Minnesota Wild defenseman Marco Scandella (6) during the third period in game three of the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Xcel Energy Center. The Wild defeated the Blackhawks 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The roller-coaster of the series is (hopefully) starting to feel like it is coming to a rest, which will see the Chicago Blackhawks advance to the Western Conference Finals, and the Minnesota Wild begin their off-season.
Yes, the Blackhawks do have the momentum, but they haven’t won a game, in Minnesota, yet during this series. So, it’s hard to call this a sure thing. Plus, this is a Wild team that will likely not go quietly into the night.
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It’s clear that things are trending in the Hawks favor, but the Wild aren’t far off. Throughout the playoffs, the Hawks have had better offense, better defense, and better special teams, than the Wild. Where the Wild have caused problems, for the Hawks is in the possession game. However, this wasn’t the case, in Games 1, 2, and 5, all games in which the Hawks won. As long as the Hawks can keep the puck and sustain pressure, they will win and advance. If the Wild are able to snag the puck, and frustrate the Hawks, then we will be back in Chicago, for Game 7.
The Wild will be in desperation mode, tonight, and that may work in their favor. Their 3rd line, mainly speaking of Erik Haula, has used speed to give the Hawks fits, all series long. It will be interesting to see how Haula along with his linemates Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine handle the aforementioned desperation. We certainly know how Cooke will handle it. Watch your knees, Hawks. No matter how well the 3rd line plays, it will likely mean nothing, unless the top scoring line of Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, and Jason Pominville are able to contribute. They typically have been able to, but they were shutdown, in Game 5, and it dismantled the Wild offensive attack, for the most part.
In net, for the Wild, will once again be Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov has done a solid job, this series, but has been exceptional at home, where the Hawks have struggled to get quality scoring chances, against him. If the Wild are able to limit the Hawks chances, Bryzgalov just has to be solid, for Minnesota to force a Game 7.
The Hawks are usually a safe bet, when they have the chance to eliminate an opponent, and advance to the next round. However, the way they have played, in Minnesota this series, is a very valid concern. During the morning skate, Patrick Sharp was a winger, on the top-line, alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. This line combination wrecked havoc, on the Wild, in Game 5. The 2nd line was centered by Michal Handzus with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad as his wings. It looks like Peter Regin impressed Coach Q enough to earn another opportunity, this time on the 3rd line. Regin will be flanked by Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg. The 4th line will be Marcus Kruger centering Ben Smith and Joakim Nordstrom. This is basically the same combinations that allowed Q to roll 4 lines, throughout Game 5, which was a key, in the Hawks victory.
Unfortunately, it appears that Andrew Shaw will be out, yet again. It was said that his injury wasn’t too serious, so if necessary, it is likely he will be back for Game 7.
In net, for the Hawks, will be Corey Crawford. Crawford was spectacular, In Game 5, after a dismal Game 4. He has been one of the most dependable goaltenders, in the playoffs.
It certainly isn’t a given, but it the chances of the Hawks wrapping up the series, tonight, looks more positive than negative. Yes, they haven’t won in Minnesota, during this series, but if they are to finally do so tonight, it won’t be the toughest test they face, on the road to the Stanley Cup. So, let’s do this, tonight!