Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild Game 3: Keys for Each Team
In losing the first two games of the series at the United Center, the Wild put their determination and work ethic on display with some frequency. However, they have not shown the ability to put the puck in the net. That's especially true of their two top lines.
They can't wait any longer, because if they go down 3-0 against the Blackhawks, this series is over. Minnesota must come up with its best effort in Game 3 to show the Blackhawks that they are a legitimate threat to come up with the upset.
Here are the keys as both teams prepare for Game 3.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Prepare for the Opening Salvo
The Blackhawks have been through this many times before. They know what it's like to go into a hostile environment, absorb a dose of heavy hitting from the home team and then turn it up after the initial foray.
It's called poise. The Blackhawks displayed it in four rounds of last year's postseason. They took hard hit after hard hit in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins and managed to win two of the three games played on the Bruins' home ice.
They displayed it again in the opening round this year when they defeated the St. Louis Blues in overtime on the road in Game 5.
This is where the leadership of head coach Joel Quenneville and captain Jonathan Toews takes over. There is no panic when the Blackhawks go on the road. They don't get blown out in the playoffs and when they can handle the opponent's initial burst, they have the advantage.
The Blackhawks don't need to have the lead at the end of the first period in Game 3. However, if the score is tied or they are down by no more than a goal, they should be in a position to let their skill take over in the final two periods.
Minnesota Wild Key: Get the Early Lead
The past week has been a tough one for the Wild.
They played three road games and have spent nearly every minute of the three games tied or behind.
While they played a defining game in Colorado when they defeated the Avalanche in Game 7, they were fighting from behind all night. The Wild faced 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits in that game and didn't have the lead until Nino Niederreiter scored the series-winning goal in overtime.
The Wild never had the lead in either of the first two games played at the United Center.
Head coach Mike Yeo needs his team to get the opening goal and play with the lead.
He needs to see his troops regain their skating ability. Yeo was not happy with the way his team skated for the majority of Game 2.
"One thing to me was clear right from the start is I thought we didn't have the legs tonight," Yeo told Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "That was a big factor."
Yeo gave his team Monday off so it could rest and regain its strength. If that translates into faster skating and better finishing around the net, the Wild should have an excellent chance of winning Game 3 on home ice.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Contribution from 'Energy' Players
The Chicago Blackhawks have to feel good about taking a 2-0 advantage in the series, but one of the main points of emphasis for Quenneville and his coaching staff is not to take the Minnesota Wild lightly.
It will be easy for them to make the point, but it may be difficult for the Blackhawks to realize how dangerous the situation really is.
Quenneville and his assistants can point to the first-round experiences of both the Blackhawks and the Wild. Both teams lost the first two games of the series and came back to win their respective series.
They can talk about how well the Wild played in the last five games of their series against Colorado and how tough they are at home.
Still, the players may not take the message seriously. In addition to winning each of the first two games by three goals each, they vanquished the Wild in five games last year, and the series was relatively easy.
Even if there is a certain complacency on the team, it's easy for the Blackhawks to look at Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and think the two superstars will bail them out if there is trouble.
Brandon Saad and Ben Smith are the Blackhawks' energy players who can keep that mindset from taking over.
Saad scored two goals in Game 3 of the series, breaking a 19-game goalless drought. While Saad had not been scoring, he had been pushing the pace and playing like a "monster," according to Toews, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Smith has one goal and two assists in eight postseason games and a plus-five rating. He has given the Blackhawks a lift with his hustle and work ethic.
If Saad and Smith both play with high energy, the Blackhawks will be difficult to contain in Game 3.
Minnesota Wild Key: Superstars Must Play Their Best Game
This part has to be a no-brainer for the Minnesota Wild. If they are going to get back into the series with the Chicago Blackhawks, they have to come with maximum effort against the most explosive team in the NHL.
The leadership of the team has to take over and set a positive example. We are talking about Zach Parise and Ryan Suter.
These two Gold Dust Twins signed 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild in the summer of 2012 just for these moments. Parise has a history of playoff success while Suter has long been a tower of strength on the blue line.
Both were awful by their own standards in Game 2. Parise played 19:18, registered three shots and did not have a point. He also had a minus-three rating.
Suter was no better. He played 27:25, took just one shot on goal and did not score a point either. He was also minus-three in the game but was credited with five hits.
Neither Parise nor Suter can afford to have that kind of showing if the Wild are going to win Game 3.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Continue to Remain Consistent on Defense
Team defense is never glorified in the NHL, yet it is the backbone to winning hockey.
Even on a team like the Blackhawks, which is loaded with gifted scorers, the Blackhawks' team defensive concept is vital to winning games in the playoffs.
The Wild have scored three goals in two games against Chicago, and much of that is due to the positioning of the defense. Players like Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya maintain their gaps in the defensive zone, keep their sticks on the ice so they can intercept passes and shots in the heavy-traffic lanes and are fearless when it comes to blocking shots.
Seabrook is regularly known for his offensive contributions because he can carry the puck, pass it accurately and shoot with a purpose. However, he blocked six shots in Game 2 and helped goaltender Corey Crawford immensely.
Hjalmarsson blocked four shots in that game, including one in the face that sent him sprawling to the ice. After slowly getting to his feet, Hjalmarsson went to the bench for two shifts before he came back into the game.
The Blackhawks are giving up 2.12 goals per game in the playoffs, a figure that ranks second in the league. That defensive excellence must be on display in Game 3 if Chicago is going to win on the road.
Minnesota Wild Key: Yeo Must Build Bryzgalov's Confidence
The Wild have suffered through a slew of goaltending issues that could have prevented them from getting to the playoffs, let alone winning the first round.
The latest setback was the apparent head injury suffered by rookie Darcy Kuemper when he collided with Ryan Suter in Game 7 against Colorado. He had to come out of that game in the late stages of the third period and was replaced by Ilya Bryzgalov.
Bryzgalov started both games in Chicago and gave up four and three goals, respectively, in those two games (the Blackhawks added empty-net goals in each game.) While he looked somewhat shaky in Game 1, he was much better in Game 2, as the goals he allowed were not his fault.
Bryzgalov has a spotty record in the playoffs. He had disappointing showings for Phoenix in 2011 and Philadelphia in 2012 and has not gotten off to the best of starts this year with a 3.90 goals-against average and a .830 save percentage.
However, Yeo has nowhere else to turn. There are no other playoff goaltenders who are ready to play at this time, despite the suggestion of TwinCities.com blogger/columnist Bob Sansevere, so he must continue to give Bryzgalov his turn in the net.
Bryzgalov is a thoughtful player who knows he has struggled in the postseason. Yeo must attempt to build him up and boost his confidence. He has to coax the best performance he can from his goaltender or the Wild will be fighting a losing battle in Game 3.