The Chicago Blackhawks will get their first chance to finish off the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night as the two teams battle in Game 4 of their series at Xcel Energy Center.
The series thus far has been dominated by the Blackhawks’ defense and goaltending, with Corey Crawford and company only allowing four goals in total. The Blackhawks have also gotten a tremendous offensive push from winger Patrick Kane, who has scored four times and extended his goal-scoring streak in the postseason to four games.
As for Minnesota, their offense has looked rather pedestrian thanks to some great efforts by the Hawks, and even though they racked up scoring chances and dominated possession in most of their 1-0 Game 3 loss on Tuesday night, they’re still having a tough time converting. They’ve been kept largely to the perimeter of the ice thanks to the Blackhawks’ aggressive forechecking forwards, and they haven’t gotten many chances from in close to the net as the Hawks’ blue liners keep pinching forwards at bay.
The Blackhawks are certainly playing some of their best hockey of the year, and those elements giving them such great success must be present in Game 4 in order for them to win. One of the biggest keys in this game will be to continue to get the type of aggression and offensive push that the third and fourth lines have shown so far in the series. Teuvo Teravainen has been especially good at this, as well as Andrew Desjardins, and the Hawks will need both players to bring their A-games.
The other key for the Blackhawks will be to withstand an early push from Minnesota. In Game 3, the Blackhawks were on their heels for a good chunk of the first period, but they were able to stand up to the constant pressure and ultimately got a power play goal as a result. Minnesota will undoubtedly come out of the gate with a ton of enthusiasm and energy, and if the Hawks can stifle it like they did in Game 3, things should work out in their favor on Thursday.
For Minnesota, the key to winning Game 4 will be to translate their puck possession success into more viable scoring opportunities. The team has some really talented forwards in Jason Pominville and Zach Parise, but they’re being forced into taking low-percentage shots thanks to the Hawks’ defense. If they’re going to reverse that trend, they'll have to do a better job of establishing possession in the offensive zone and moving the puck around more to try to find soft spots in the aggressive Blackhawks defensive system.
Minnesota will also need a big game out of Devan Dubnyk, who has come back down to Earth a bit in this series after a prolonged run of serious success. His rebound control has been suspect through the three games thus far, and he’ll have to do a much better job of keeping the puck away from guys like Jonathan Toews and Antoine Vermette, who have both been swarming the net.
Finally, the Wild need better performances out of several blue liners, including Ryan Suter. The once-dominant blue liner has looked like a shell of his former self in this series, failing to assert himself offensively and getting beaten on what seem to be simple zone entries on defense. It’s definitely a possibility that he’s playing with an injury, but even still he has to play a more disciplined and effective game if Minnesota is going to have a chance.