Forget that the Blackhawks have more depth and and skill upfront, the Wild will do whatever they can to clog up the offensive zone.
It's been successful thus far as the Blackhawks are doing the one thing they that they hate the most: dumping the puck into the offensive zone. While the 'Hawks have enough skill to dangle into the zone when they please, the best strategy may be to dump the puck every once in a while.
Though, when asked about the strategy, Patrick Kane was reluctant to say that the Blackhawks needed to use the dump-and-chase more frequently (via Chicago Sun-Times):
Sometimes the best play isn’t really to dump it in and go chase it, go forecheck and hit. Instead, pull it back and regroup and come back with speed and try to attack that way. Make direct plays. That’s how we want to play; that’s our game.
Kane's mentally is that of a puck-control player—which isn't all that bad considering that the Blackhawks lost only seven games in regulation this season. But being stubborn can come back to burn a team if they fail to adapt to the situation at hand.
That's what the Wild have challenged the Blackhawks to do in this first-round series.
Yes, the Blackhawks are up 1-0 in this best-of-seven series against the Wild, but it was a close first win against a weaker opponent. An opponent the Blackhawks had a hard time adapting against in the first and second period of Tuesday night's game.
It was a constant attack of Chicago players rushing down the ice and turning the puck over at the blue line or in the slot—even Kane's brilliant pass to Marian Hossa for the 'Hawks' first goal had to go through the legs of three Wild players.
“That’s how they’ve played us all season, and we kind of expected that in Game 1,” 'Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said (via Chicago Sun-Times). “I don’t think that’s going to change very much. It’s up to us to keep being as tough as we can on their goaltender, maybe get some more of those second shots and some more traffic in front of him. We’ve just got to keep wearing them down.”
It's only a matter of time before the defensive pairing of Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin feel the fatigue of playing an average of 28 minutes a game. When that happens, the Wild's system of clogging up the middle and sitting back on the Blackhawks will start to break down, allowing for more offensive opportunities.
In that scenario, the 'Hawks would benefit from playing a puck possession game that favors skill over dumping the puck.
But give the Wild credit—more specially goaltender Josh Harding who played a stellar game against on Tuesday night only giving up two goals. They were able to withstand a number of attacks from the 'Hawks while even getting a few great looks at Corey Crawford.
The Phoenix Coyotes were able to capitalize on the 'Hawks' failure to adapt to the situation last postseason. Of course, incredible play by goaltender Mike Smith and the injury to Marian Hossa both played a huge role, but in the end the 'Hawks were out-fought.
If it comes down to the wire against the Wild, the Blackhawks will have to be the grittier team.
If they aren't, we may be looking at a very big upset Friday night at the United Center.
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