Chicago Blackhawks' Game 1 Triumph over Minnesota Wild Comes with Warning Signs

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Chicago Blackhawks' Game 1 Triumph over Minnesota Wild Comes with Warning Signs
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A casual fan, perusing the highlights and noting the 5-2 box score, might have assumed that Chicago’s victory over Minnesota was a rout.

It wasn’t.

While it is true that the Wild should be worried after this contest, the Blackhawks too have much to consider.

Chicago should be the much better team, judging by the accomplishments of its core group, the regular-season standings, and both advanced and more basic metrics. But on Friday, the Blackhawks blew a 2-0 lead and were dominated by the Wild for long stretches of the game.

For Minnesota, the result was even scarier. Chicago was a long way from being at its best and still left the rink on the right side of that 5-2 score.

In his postgame availability, Wild coach Mike Yeo argued that his team can put in a better showing than it did in the opening contest:

Minnesota did have some problems—the penalty kill struggled, Kane’s last goal was a pretty ugly defensive breakdown, the better goalie was at the opposing end of the rink—but for all that the Wild’s game was fairly good on balance. The visiting team outshot Chicago (particularly in the second period, where the margin was 17-3), outhit Chicago and did a credible job of puck possession even before the score came into play.

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Of particular note was the power-versus-power matchup. Chicago’s top line (Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell) spent roughly 70 percent of its even-strength ice time against Minnesota’s top trio (Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund). The Blackhawks were outshot 12-3 with Toews on the ice, a rarity for the elite centre.

The mix of pros and cons left at least one Wild blogger, Emilie of Hockey Wilderness, optimistic for the future of the series:

The things to take away from tonight's game is that the Wild did a lot of good things. Some things need to be better. The defense needs to be better, and so does the goaltending. But these are things that those of us who have been around all season know can and will be fixed for the next game. The Wild have one of the best defensive corps in the league. The team will do some work, watch some more film, and come back adjusted for game 2 on Sunday.

On the other side of the chasm between victory and defeat, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was in no mood postgame to gloat about the result. Instead, he was blunt in his assessment of the contest and in the need for his club to do better:

He isn’t wrong. Corey Crawford had to be good in net, and even so, Chicago lost the 2-0 lead that the power play had earned it. Ultimately, the team needed some third-period magic from Patrick Kane to regain the lead:

While there were some warning signs for Chicago here (and Quenneville’s remarks left no room for doubt that he sees them), this is a contest that favors the Blackhawks. Chicago is a better team than Minnesota, and if the Wild are to pull off an upset series win, they need to cash in on these games where the performance of the two clubs is close. They failed to do so, and Chicago doesn’t just get a pass for a middling performance; it gains a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Both coaches are certain to adapt moving forward. Quenneville will doubtlessly push a Chicago team that may have been guilty of some complacency to put in a better two-way game the next time out. Yeo will work to rectify the occasional defensive breakdowns of his team and, of course, to shore up the penalty kill.

It’s Yeo who has the tougher challenge. His team is on the wrong end of the balance of talent in this series, and now trailing. Despite the warning signs for Chicago, this closer-than-it-appears victory has the Blackhawks one step closer to repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

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