NHL Playoffs 2014: Round 2 Preview – Chicago Blackhawks vs Minnesota Wild
SERIES BEGINS: Friday 05/02/14
PUCK DROP: 20.30 CT 21.30 ET 02.30 GMT
BY THE NUMBERS
|WON LAST ROUND IN…||6 games||7 games|
|20 / 14
|22 / 20
|TOP POINT SCORER
(J. TOEWS &
|TOP GOAL SCORER
| 3 G
(J. TOEWS &
(Z. PARISE &
|TOTAL 5v5 SV%||92.8%||90.8%|
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS ROUND 1 LOWDOWN:
The Hawks are coming off a hard-fought and very strange series against the Blues. Both teams were far from their best, four games went to OT (including 3OT in Game 1) which really means they became a coinflip, yet it wasn’t really as close as all that, either. St Louis’ lack of offensive firepower, coupled with injuries, led to their downfall.
The Hawks got through thanks to standout play from Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford. In addition they got stellar offensive production from their blueline corps, with Duncan Keith, in particular reaffirming his Norris credentials. Ominously for Minnesota the likes of Bryan Bickell, Ben Smith & Andrew Shaw began to make their presence felt more and more as the series progressed.
However, there is still a feeling among Chicago fans that there is work to be done: solving the 4th Line issue (where EV minutes are seriously limited) and ensuring that there is no repeat of the 32 penalties taken against the Blues.
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS PLAYER TO WATCH:
Patrick Sharp, without question. He had 1 Goal and no Assists in 6 games. However, in that time he took 23 shots, which leads to a Shooting Percentage of just 4.3%. That is terrible bad luck and is simply not going to last. There is a feeling that Sharp (and linemate Marian Hossa, who has a Sh% of 3.4% in the Playoffs thus far) are about to break out and if that happens while Kane & Toews continue to perform as they have, the Hawks will be simply terrifying.
MINNESOTA WILD ROUND 1 LOWDOWN:
The Wild also progressed from a tough, apparently close series with four OT games including the clinching Game 7. However, again, it wasn’t really as close as it appeared by looking at the scores. The most telling statistic from the series was the huge advantage the Wild had in possession: their 59.8% Corsi leads the Playoffs, and the Avs 40.2% is firmly at the bottom of the table.
This has been the story of the Avs season so far, and they have ridden extraordinary ‘luck’ (PDO) and stellar goaltending to get this far. The luck ran out and the goaltending dropped to merely “Very Good” and that was that.
The Wild also saw excellent production from a number of their stars and young guns with Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle and Mikael Granlund all having an excellent series. Nino Niederreiter has also come into form of late. The Wild can and should be feeling very pleased with their play thus far.
MINNESOTA WILD PLAYER TO WATCH:
Mikael Granlund. He’s already a noted Hawk-Killer who always seems to enjoy playing Chicago. In addition he’s one of the most exciting young talents in the NHL, yet never quite seems to get the credit that he deserves. He has 2 Goals & 3 Assists already and you always feel that he may be due an offensive surge. Things happen when he’s on the ice and this series would be a great place to make his name better known.
Last year, the Wild were hopelessly overmatched going into their 1st Round meeting with the Hawks. This time out, they’ve shown that they belong at the Postseason party and will be underestimated at their peril. That said, if the Hawks are firing on all cylinders, they should have too much for the Wild.
I think an interesting area will be that of goaltending: impressive young goalie Darcy Kuemper has become the starter due to injuries/illness/general catastrophe and he’s made a good job of it. He’s currently at 91.3 SV% in the Playoffs and shut the Avs out in Game 2. However, there have been a couple of sub-90% games in there, including last night, where he had to leave the game due to injury.
Corey Crawford has only dropped below 90% once and has been stellar since, with an overall 93.5 SV%. Of course, as of this writing, there is no word on the seriousness of Kuemper’s injury. If Ilya Bryzgalov starts this series, then things could get ugly very quickly. Bryz has occasionally looked like a star,but more regularly like the basket case who started the season on an ECHL tryout.
I’m going to say Hawks in 6, but I think this is going to be a closely-fought series.
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