SERIES REVIEW: As Expected – Blackhawks down Wild in 5.
The Chicago Blackhawks enjoyed an incredible season that saw them capture the President’s Trophy as the best team in the league. Minnesota also had considerable success, and were rewarded with the 8th spot in the Western Conference and a playoff berth after four years of early-golfing. Whilst the Wild were certainly a far better team than in previous years, nobody really foresaw the Blackhawks having any trouble with them.
Minnesota got off to a good start in their first playoff game since 2008, with Cal Clutterbuck firing the puck past Corey Crawford just 4:48 into the first period. That was all Minnesota would be able to manage though, with Marian Hossa tying the game on the powerplay early in the second period and Bryan Bickell putting the game away on a partial breakaway deep into overtime.
Minnesota was particularly done in by the fact that they couldn’t convert on any of their 4 powerplay opportunities, generating only 6 shots in that time, whilst Chicago managed the same number of shots in 3 opportunities and converted once – not dominant but more than the Wild could muster.
Game 2 would see considerably more excitement, although it would take 40 odd minutes for things to really take off. Chicago scored first off a Michael Frolik shot mid-way through the first, and Frolik would strike for a second, short-handed, early in the second period. Devin Setoguchi brought the Wild within 1 with two minutes left in the second, making the game interesting entering the final frame. In the third, Patrick Sharp scored two goals 11 minutes apart to put Chicago up 4-1 with less than 6 minutes remaining, and despite a Marco Scandella snapshot at 16:29 of the third period to give some belief of a comeback, but it wasn’t to be as Bryan Bickell added an empty net goal late in the game to seal the 5-2 win for Chicago.
Chicago dominated on the shot clock, firing 48 Minnesota’s way, whilst the Wild managed just 28 shots on net. A pretty clear reason for the Chicago win.
With Chicago up 2-0, the series moved to Minnesota for Game 3. The two teams traded goals in the first period, Johnny Oduya tallying for Chicago and PM Bouchard for the Wild, followed by a scoreless second period. They again traded goals in the 3rd period, with Chicago tying the game late to send the game to OT. Rookie winger Jason Zucker fired a loose puck into the net just 2:15 into overtime to send the Wild and their fans into a frenzy, with the series now closer at 2-1.
Minnesota saw the benefit of what outshooting your opponent can do, leading the Hawks 37-27 in that category. Their putrid powerplay continued however, with them failing to score on a further 3 opportunities.
With renewed hope, Minnesota hoped to get off to a good start in Game 4, but it wasn’t to be. Chicago scored once in each period without a single response from the Wild, with Patrick Sharp gaining his 3rd and 4th goals of the playoffs and Bryan Bickell continuing to impress. Minnesota’s powerplay struggles – that’s an understatement – absolutely killed them in this one, with no scores despite six opportunities, as did the fact that they gave the puck away 14 times to Chicago’s 4.
With the Wild on the brink of elimination, the Hawks knew what they had to do to put this series away: the same thing they’d been doing almost all along. Outshoot, outplay. And that they did. Marian Hossa got the team on the board towards the end of the first period, and by the mid-point of the second period they held a 3-0 lead after Marcus Kruger and Hossa added to the result. Minnesota’s Torrey Mitchell made it 3-1 but Andrew Shaw replied shortly after to regain the 3 goal cushion. Patrick Sharp scored his 5th goal in 5 games in the third period to well and truly put the game out of reach, and the Blackhawks emerged victorious.
|MINNESOTA WILD||CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS|
|EVEN STRENGTH GOALS||6||15|
|TOTAL SHOTS ON NET||139||169|
|EVEN STRENGTH SHOTS||108||146|
|BLOCKED SHOTS ATTEMPTED||68||69|
|TOTAL SHOTS (ON NET+MISSED+BLOCKED)||256||288|
KEYS TO THE SERIES
- The Blackhawks were dominant territorially and possession-wise, as you’d expect them to be. They rode this dominance to score nearly three times as many 5v5 goals as Minnesota.
- Neither team was particularly dominant on the powerplay, which is no surprise given Minnesota’s defensive reputation, but Chicago’s offensive capabilities were too much in the end, and Minnesota was simply awful – so bad that bad luck had to play a factor, as no team is that bad.
- Corey Crawford was fantastic for Chicago, putting up a stunning .950 SV% and a 1.32 GAA in 5 games. This has truly been a return-to-form for Crawford after a lacklustre sophomore season, and if he keeps this up the Blackhawks won’t be stopped by anyone, not with their depth at every position.
- Josh Harding was far from the problem in this series, and given his medical condition – he was diagnosed with MS before the start of the season – it’s inspirational that he’s playing at all. In Nik Backstrom injured, Harding took over starting duties for the playoffs and finished with a .911 SV% and 2.94 GAA – nothing outstanding, but when you take into account who he plays for and who they were playing, I’d say he was great.