The Chicago Blackhawks should get everything they can handle from the Minnesota Wild Sunday afternoon. Despite this, the Blackhawks should be prepared to put an early end to this Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Chicago is facing a desperate team that needs a Game 3 victory in order to keep any legitimate hopes of pushing the 'Hawks alive. With a 2-0 series advantage, there is no reason for the 'Hawks to take their foot off the gas.
Patrick Kane, who leads the Blackhawks with three playoff points, realizes that Chicago has merely held serve by winning the first two games. Kane said as much to the Associated Press before the team departed Saturday. From the Blackhawks team website:
You're not really out of the series until you lose at home, so we hope to put them in that position. We're trying not to think too much about it. Just trying to take it a game at a time. I know that's a cliche, but it's the way it is.
The 'Hawks need one victory either Sunday afternoon or Tuesday night at the Xcel Energy Center. Coming out on top in Game 3 increases the likelihood of making short work of the Wild. Allowing Minnesota to put up its first win of the series puts a dent in the momentum built up in Chicago.
It appears that the teams will be going to battle with similar lineups. Dave Bolland and Ray Emery traveled with Chicago but will not play, per coach Joel Quenneville.
Mike Doyle at the Wild's website reports that Clayton Stoner and Jason Pominville did not skate on Saturday and are still day-to-day. Niklas Backstrom took part in practice but will likely give way to Josh Harding, who has performed admirably in both Minnesota losses.
The blueprint seems to be similar to the first two contests. Minnesota is going to have to curb the 'Hawks' ability to bring the puck into the Wild zone with numbers. Falling behind, especially early, brings Minnesota out of its defensive shell. This opens up plenty of room for the talented Chicago forwards to work.
In Game 1, the Blackhawks fell behind and had to battle through overtime to pull out a win. Game 2 saw Chicago come out firing, striking first and cruising to victory.
In both games, the 'Hawks have found the going getting easier as the game wore on. Wild coach Mike Yeo has the advantage of the last line change at home. However, Quenneville has had no issue with sending out any of his four lines against Minnesota at any point of the game.
The play in goal, with Harding and Corey Crawford, has been outstanding. However, Chicago has shown that with some persistence that it can overwhelm the Minnesota defense. Expect the 'Hawks to be on the attack once again Sunday in the hopes of saturating Harding with shots on net.
These are the Stanley Cup playoffs, folks. No opponent can be held in light regard. The Wild have skated hard in Games 1 and 2 and we should expect more of the same as Minnesota looks to win its first playoff game in five years.
To prevail, the 'Hawks need to come out of the tunnel shooting and put their opponents on their backs.