The Chicago Blackhawks will have home ice advantage when they take on the Minnesota Wild in the second round of the postseason, but just because they have the edge in that department doesn’t mean they have a significant edge in this series.
With that in mind, we are taking a look at some of the key matchups in this upcoming series, and we will evaluate how each one of them will impact the final result and determine which team will move on to the Western Conference Final.
Mikael Granlund vs. Jonathan Toews
The Wild have several good centers on their roster, including Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle, but none have the kind of offensive upside that Granlund has. The talented youngster had a goal and four assists in the team’s victory over the St. Louis Blues in the first round, and he is going to be a handful to deal with for the Blackhawks.
Odds are that Joel Quenneville will want to put the kibosh on him as early and often as possible, so expect Jonathan Toews to see some matchups there. Toews played an excellent defensive series in the first round of the postseason, and if the top line can match the output they had on offense, the Hawks could gain a nice edge in this matchup.
Zach Parise vs. Patrick Kane
In a completely non-shocking story, Parise led the Wild in scoring for the first round series, scoring three goals and picking up four assists in six games. He is undoubtedly one of the top offensive wingers in the NHL, and his ability to put defenses off balance with his speed and quick shot make him a weapon to keep an eye on in this series.
As for the Blackhawks, Patrick Kane looked like he was rounding back into form as the series wore on. He ended up with seven points in the Hawks’ win over the Nashville Predators, and even with a rotating cast of linemates, he looked really good. Reuniting with Bryan Bickell could be good for him, as it will help clear some space on the ice and give him traffic in front of the net to shoot through.
Ryan Suter vs. Duncan Keith
There is a serious argument to be made that Jonas Brodin is the heir apparent to the title of “Top Blue Liner” in Minnesota, but Suter still holds the title at this point. He plays in all situations, is a threat to score from the blue line, and he can match up favorably with just about any forward line in the NHL.
As for the Blackhawks, they have their own iron man in Keith, who played over 32 minutes per game in the first round. Having nearly a week off was likely the best thing that could have happened for Keith, and the well-rested defenseman should be good and ready to get revenge on Norris Trophy voters that failed to nominate him for the prize.
Devan Dubnyk vs. Corey Crawford
Arguably the most intriguing matchup in this entire series is the one between the goaltenders. Dubnyk has been an absolute beast for the Wild, hauling them into the postseason almost-singlehandedly and giving up just 2.32 goals per game during the first round of the playoffs. He is a nominee for the Vezina Trophy, and rightfully so.
Meanwhile, Crawford is coming off a series that saw him get benched in Game 1, then replaced as the starter going into Game 3. He looked great in relief in Game 6 against the Predators, but can he overcome the demons from the previous series and replicate his exploits against Minnesota last postseason? The answer to that question could determine the winner of this series.
Mike Yeo vs. Joel Quenneville
Yeo was considered a dead man walking earlier in the season as the Wild was floundering in the bottom of the standings. Once Yeo made the switch to Dubnyk, the team seemed to really get started in the right direction, and his moves since then have worked like a charm as Minnesota stormed into the playoffs and beat the favored Blues in round one.
As for Quenneville, his job status hasn’t been called into question lately, but his decision-making during the postseason has been the subject of plenty of debate. His handling of Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette has been discussed at length, and his strategies with both his forwards and his defensive pairings will play a big role in how these games play out on the ice.