Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild Game 4: Keys for Each Team
The Blackhawks were not at their best in Game 3 Tuesday night, and it showed in their inability to sustain an offense. They mounted just 19 shots in the game and never tested vulnerable Minnesota goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Blackhawks had won six games in a row prior to their Game 3 loss, and a better effort would seem obvious in Game 4. However, the Wild is 4-0 at home in this playoff year, and they are a much better team than the outfit that lost to Chicago in five games last year.
The Wild are now in a position to tie the series. The Blackhawks may make a couple of lineup changes that could prevent Minnesota from gaining any more confidence.
Here are the Game 4 keys for each team.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: More Intensity and Sharper Effort
It would be a mistake and an overstatement to say that the Blackhawks went through the motions in Game 3.
It was not their best effort and the offense did not come close to meeting expectations, but Chicago played Minnesota on even terms through the first 40 minutes, and Joel Quenneville's team was in a position to seize the game in the third period.
However, Chicago could not match the Wild's intensity or consistency. When Erik Haula got behind Patrick Kane early in the third period and tipped Justin Fontaine's hard pass into the back of the net, the Wild gained the advantage. They pressed that edge from that point forward and had four goals by the end of the third period.
Chicago rarely put its star power on display. Kane later made a backhand-forehand move on the Minnesota defense that left Bryzgalov at his mercy, but the puck skittered off his stick and into the corner.
Kane has to play better and so does Jonathan Toews, who lost more than half of his faceoffs. If those two can get back on track, the rest of the Blackhawks should follow suit. That includes Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith, who were ordinary in Game 3.
The Blackhawks don't want to go back to Chicago riding a two-game losing streak. The key may be turning up the intensity and imposing their will on the upstart Wild.
Minnesota Wild Key: Burying Their Early Chances
Do the Minnesota Wild belong on the same ice with the defending Stanley Cup champions? They have quality players like Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Mikko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, but do they really believe they are as good as the Chicago Blackhawks?
We should get the answer Friday night. The Blackhawks did not put their relentless offense on display in Game 3, and the Wild's speed and intensity had much to do with it. Minnesota's effort will have to be as good or better in Game 4.
Mike Yeo knows his team can't continue to leave all its scoring to the third period. Minnesota has not scored one goal in the first or second period of any game in this series. The Wild scored twice in the third period in Game 1, once in Game 2 and four times in Game 3.
Getting blanked for 40 minutes puts significant pressure on the defense and goaltending, and that's something that usually is not associated with a successful performance in the postseason.
The Wild gets elite-level leadership from Parise and Suter, and those two have to jump-start the attack earlier in the game. Minnesota has not had success in the games where it has been forced to come from behind, so scoring early would be a nice change and serve notice that the team is good enough to square the series.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Igniting the Power Play
The Blackhawks have only had three power-play opportunities in the last two games, so it would not be fair to say they are in a slump with the man advantage.
However, they were missing two of their key power-play weapons in Game 3 when Quenneville chose to make defenseman Nick Leddy inactive and he couldn't use pest/agitator/net-front presence Andrew Shaw in the lineup.
Shaw did not practice Thursday and will not play against the Wild in Game 4, according to Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune.
Sheldon Brookbank got the call in Game 3 over Leddy, but Quenneville told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times that he thought the hard-shooting Leddy would not be nailed to the bench for the remainder of the series.
“I still think he’ll be a big part of this series and success going forward,” Quenneville said. “We’re going to need him here, and we want him to be a part of it.”
Since Shaw is not going to be providing a net-front presence, the Blackhawks need one of their forwards to step up and take that role.
Jonathan Toews is Mr. Everything for the Blackhawks, so don't be surprised if he steps into that role Friday night.
Minnesota Wild Key: Matt Cooke Returns to the Lineup
Matt Cooke has finished serving his seven-game suspension for his vicious knee-on-knee hit on Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
He will be back in the lineup Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. While Cooke has average-to-slightly-above-average talent, he is a hard worker and a hustler who can have an impact on the game with his hitting ability.
Cooke will throw his weight around and he will look for targets. The most egregious hit of his career came in 2010 against Marc Savard of the Boston Bruins, and that hit played a key role in Savard's career coming to an end.
Cooke claims he has seen the error of his ways and can no longer be looked at as a dirty player. His hit on Barrie says otherwise.
"People are entitled to their opinions,’’ Cooke told Rachel Blount of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “It’s not my job to go out and change peoples’ opinions. It’s my job to go out and play the way I can and be successful, helping my teammates win."
At his best, Cooke is a tough, hard-nosed player who will win the puck battle in the corner and make a minimal contribution on the offensive end (10 goals and 18 assists in 2013-14).
At his worst, Cooke is a dangerous player who has ruined other players' careers.
The Blackhawks cannot afford to ignore his presence in Game 4.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Win the Possession Battle
Even the most casual hockey fans have an idea that the Blackhawks' success is built around speed, skill and puck possession. They are not going to win the physical battle most nights, and they are not going to try to assert themselves in that area.
The Blackhawks want to play keep-away with the puck. However, they are not doing that in the postseason. ExtraSkater.com reports they have a Fenwick percentage of 49.3 through their first nine playoff games, and that ranks 10th among the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason.
The Wild rank first among playoff teams in puck possession with a 56.6 Fenwick percentage.
The Blackhawks have to turn this around in Game 4 if they want to return to Chicago with a 3-1 edge in the series.
Minnesota Wild Key: Bryzgalov Must Hold His Own in the Net
This is probably the biggest single factor of all for the Minnesota Wild.
They need an outstanding performance from Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. While he does not need to post another shutout, he does have to come up with key stops at crucial moments.
He must be consistent in his approach and his execution, and he can't give the Blackhawks any soft goals.
Bryzgalov was not tested severely in Game 3. They fired 19 shots at him, and just a handful were real testers. That's not likely to be the case in Game 4. The Blackhawks have a boatload of offensive talent and it seems likely they will come at Bryzgalov a lot harder than they did in Game 3.
Bryzgalov's track record in the playoffs is quite questionable. Even with the shutout, he has a 3.09 goals-against average and a save percentage of .860 this year. He had save percentages of .879 for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010-11 and .887 for the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011-12.
The Blackhawks figure to put a lot more heat on Bryzgalov in Game 4. How will he hold up to it?