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Chicago Blackhawks: 3 Reasons They’ll Close Out The Wild

By Colin Likas
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Hours after someone on this website wrote about how the Chicago Blackhawks would likely fall in Game 3, Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford and Co. put the Minnesota Wild on the chopping block with a thrilling 1-0 victory at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.

So what do we say about tonight’s Game 4? We can remember, even more so this time, that dropping an affair in Minnesota would be unfortunate but far from the end of the world. The ’Hawks had three shots to take out Nashville in Round 1, dropped the first at Bridgestone Arena and ultimately mopped up the Preds in Game 6.

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  • That could happen in Games 4 and 5 against the Wild. But with the way the ’Hawks are currently running, it may very well be time for the team’s first playoff sweep under coach Joel Quenneville since blowing by San Jose in 2010. So let’s discuss reasons why the guys in the Indian Head can wrap things up tonight against Minnesota.

    Game 3’s possession numbers are misleading. It wasn’t surprising to see the Wild tilt the puck possession scales Tuesday while having last change and receiving an extra push from their home crowd (which hilariously spent time chanting at Crawford while their team was losing). While they struggled to control the puck in three home tilts against St. Louis in the first round, the Wild posted 65 shot attempts against the ’Hawks in Game 3, with 30 finding their way to Crawford. Chicago, meanwhile, managed 41 shot attempts, with 22 meeting Devan Dubnyk. Does that mean the Wild battered the ’Hawks for 60 game minutes?

    Screenshot from war-on-ice.com

    Not exactly, as you’ll see from these two graphs at war-on-ice.com. The Wild came out of the gates quickly in the first period, but the ’Hawks took that push and tossed it right back at their opponents. Hence, the teams were tied in even-strength shots on goal (8-8), close in even-strength shot attempts (approximately 15-14 Wild) and even in 5-on-5 scoring chances (9-9). Kane taking advantage of what would turn out to be Minnesota’s only penalty of the night served as the difference. The second period featured much of the same, with the ’Hawks staying ahead of the Wild in even-strength scoring chances for much of the frame and only losing ground in even-strength shot attempts with about 7½ minutes to go. Again, the teams found the Crawford and Dubnyk the same number of times at even strength with nine shots apiece. A strong Minnesota powerplay during the second frame generated three additional shots but, obviously, no goal.

    Screenshot from war-on-ice.com

    And then there was the third period. The Wild had ’Hawks fans biting their fingernails and pulling out their hair from the get-go. A large part of the puck possession difference can be attributed to what went down in the third, as the Wild’s 5-on-5 shot attempts jumped from 36 after two periods to 65 at the final horn. However, the two teams wound up with the same number of even-strength scoring chances for the entire game and were separated by just six even-strength shots on goal in the third alone.

    So the Wild didn’t leave the ’Hawks bloody and broken in Game 3. They used last change to their advantage and didn’t wait for the ’Hawks to come at them. But Chicago matched Minnesota through more than half of the contest. The aggressive attack might’ve resulted in one or more goals on another night, but Crawford and the ’Hawks’ defense were up to the task. Which brings us to another point…

    The Wild offered their best shot and came up empty. Different coaches have different feelings about moral victories. But what could Mike Yeo have come up with to say to his guys after Game 3’s result? The Wild ran right at the ’Hawks for the majority of the game. Through about 33 minutes, the ’Hawks were matching what the Wild were achieving with the huge benefit of finding the back of the net once. And then Minnesota found yet another gear, took the throttle to that for close to 27 minutes…and got nothing. In fact, in the middle of that second surge, Patrick Sharp very nearly put the puck past Dubnyk, on a breakaway opportunity early in the third. The Wild were close, but they aren’t playing horseshoes. Sure, they could come out with a similar attack tonight, and with some better bounces or ’Hawks’ miscues, the Wild could find the back of the net. But it won’t be easy knowing their best shot was rebuffed in the form of a shutout.

    Additionally, the ’Hawks are capable of beating Dubnyk more than once tonight. The only forwards above water in possession in Game 3 were Teuvo Teravainen, Antoine Vermette and Sharp. So any one or more of them could have a big night in Game 4. Plus, the ’Hawks’ big guns don’t necessarily need amazing possession numbers to make the opposition pay. One would think, regardless of Minnesota having last change and nothing left to lose, that Chicago will do all in its power to turn out the lights on the Wild’s season. Giving a team more chances to come back from any sort of deficit is not optimal, something the ’Hawks are well versed in at this point.

    Mandatory Credit: Marilyn Indahl-USA TODAY Sports

    Crawford is in the zone, Dubnyk isn’t. Coming into this series, it was clear goaltending would be a focal point. You had the guy who got benched in his team’s first-round series versus the Vezina Trophy finalist who hadn’t lost back-to-back regulation games since being acquired by his new team in January. Or, if you added some thought, you had a goalie who led his team to a Stanley Cup in 2013 and probably deserved the Conn Smythe award versus a guy with no playoff experience who could break in any given game thanks to the lack of time his team held the puck in front of him.

    And here we are, with Crawford carrying a .959 save percentage through three games against the Wild, with just one goal permitted in his last two starts. His counterpart Dubnyk holds a .914 save percentage with some soft goals allowed in key spots. The ’Hawks’ defense is still keeping a ridiculous number of shots from getting to Crow, but his positioning and rebound control have been pretty stellar throughout the series. The Wild are going to need a pretty otherworldly effort and some luck to blow by Crow at this point. And it still may not be enough based on what the ’Hawks do offensively.

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