On Tuesday night, the Chicago Blackhawks will have a chance to do something that they’ve done 11 times over the past six postseasons: finish off an opponent in a playoff series.
This time, it’s the Minnesota Wild who are standing between the Blackhawks and the next round of the playoffs, and while there are some things working against Chicago, there are a few things working in their favor too. For example, over the past six postseasons, the Blackhawks have won seven consecutive series in which they’ve been tied at two games apiece with their opposition. In fact, in those seven series, the Blackhawks have a record of 11-2 in Games 5 and 6, with the only two losses coming to Vancouver in 2009 and 2011.
The Blackhawks also have a streak going of consecutive series-clinching victories. Since the first-round series against the Nashville Predators in 2010, the Blackhawks have won nine consecutive games in which they’ve had a chance to clinch a series and advance to the next round.
They’ve done it in all sorts of ways, winning in overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the Detroit Red Wings in 2013, and they’ve also blown teams out, including the St. Louis Blues this season and the Vancouver Canucks in 2010.
All of that being said, however, this challenge will be unlike any the Blackhawks have faced. The Wild are absolutely rolling at home this postseason, scoring 16 goals in five games at Xcel Energy Center and winning all five of those contests. They also caused the Blackhawks’ offense to ground to a halt in the two games played in St. Paul in this series, only allowing two goals and limiting them to fewer than 20 shots in both tilts.
If the Blackhawks are going to end the Wild’s streak of perfection on home ice and advance to the next round, there are three things that they need to do, and we detail them in our Three Keys to Victory:
Quenneville Must Resist the Urge to Play Matchup Games
In the two games that the Blackhawks played against the Wild in St. Paul earlier in the series, Quenneville tied himself in knots as he tried to outwit Wild head coach Mike Yeo. Those efforts were mostly predicated on trying to keep Jonathan Toews off the ice when Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter were out there, but it ended up devolving into a tangled mess of line combinations that had zero chemistry and zero offensive ability.
In Game 6, Quenneville needs to take his finger off the Line Blender 3000 and let his players play their game. That’s not to say that he shouldn’t just let Yeo dictate matchups, but just throwing random guys on the ice isn’t the best strategy for success either, and the two goals the team scored in Minnesota over two games is proof positive that the strategy of throwing players at the ice and seeing who can stick wasn’t an effective one.
Blackhawks Must Stay Disciplined
During the two games in Minnesota, the Blackhawks gave the Wild nine power plays, and while they were able to kill off seven of them, the fact of the matter is that the Blackhawks need to play more time at even strength if they are going to beat the Wild in this game.
Take Game 5 as an example of what can happen if the Hawks are at even strength for the majority of the game. Brent Seabrook committed a penalty just 30 seconds into the game, and the Blackhawks didn’t hit their stride in the game until the second period. That one infraction gave the Wild some serious momentum in the first period, and the wave crested when Erik Haula scored a goal with about four minutes remaining in the frame to give his team a 1-0 lead.
In the second and third periods of the game, the Blackhawks managed to stay out of the penalty box, and they were able to finally get some positive momentum going. They got over 10 shots on goal in a period for the first time in over three games in the second period, and Bryan Bickell scored a power play goal to tie things up. In the third period the Blackhawks grabbed the lead early on Toews’ tally, and they were able to hold on as the Wild fought back without committing any silly infractions.
If they can stay out of the penalty box and stay disciplined in this game, they have a much better chance of winning than if they continue to run their penalty killers ragged while keeping skilled guys like Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane off the ice.
Bryzgalov Can’t Be Allowed to Settle Into the Game
In the first two games of the series against the Wild, the Blackhawks made it a point to continuously pound shots at Minnesota goaltender Ilyz Bryzgalov, and with a plethora of rebound opportunities presented to them, they were able to rack up goals and grab a 2-0 series lead as a result.
In Games 3 and 4 however, the Blackhawks deviated from that strategy, and their attempts to break into the offensive zone were largely thwarted in the neutral zone trap that the Wild set up. Two goals in two games followed as a result, and Bryzgalov was made to look like a world beater after two games in which anyone in the world could have beaten him.
Game 5 provided a better blueprint for the Blackhawks to use. On Bickell’s goal, Kane took advantage of an open seam in the slot and stayed patient, but he ultimately got the shot on goal and Bickell’s screen ended up paying dividends as he deflected the shot into the net. On Toews’ third period tally, the Hawks forward crashed the net after a shot from Sharp was knocked back toward the net by Ryan Suter, and as a result of his quick thinking the Blackhawks captain pounded home the rebound to give his team the lead for good.
Crashing the net and getting traffic to the front are both things that Quenneville and company preach constantly, but the team hasn’t exactly been following those tenets of faith lately. If they can continue to do what they did in Game 5, then they should have a decent chance of knocking off the Wild and advancing to the next round of the playoffs.