Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild: Biggest Takeaways from Game 4
They have played the defending Stanley Cup champions on even terms through the first four games of their second-round playoff series.
The Blackhawks played hard in Game 4, but the Wild were the better team in nearly every measurable area as they registered a 4-2 victory and squared the series at 2-2.
The Wild seemed spurred on by their unrelenting and loud crowd as they dictated the pace and were the better team from start to finish at the Xcel Energy Center.
Here's a look a the biggest takeaways from Game 4.
Wild Simply Outworked the Blackhawks
The Wild got the Blackhawks' attention during their 4-0 victory in Game 3. It was more of the same in Game 4, as the Wild skaters simply beat the Blackhawks to nearly every loose puck, and they won the battle the majority of the night.
The Wild outworked the visitors, and the statistical breakdowns proved that. The Wild outhit the Blackhawks 22-7, they won the faceoff battle 34-25, and Minnesota drew five power-play advantages and scored on one of them while Chicago was blanked on both of its power-play opportunities.
Perhaps the most telling statistic—other than the final score—was the Wild's 15-4 advantage in takeaways. That number demonstrated how quick Minnesota was and how strong it was in the battle for the puck.
Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was very unhappy that his team did not display the same kind of effort as the Wild.
“They worked for their chances. They worked for everything they got,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said, per Michael Russo of Minneapolis' Star Tribune. “We have to do the same. I don’t really know how to explain it. We have to be better."
Defense Does Not Support Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford regularly gets the blame when the Blackhawks find themselves on the short end of the score.
Passionate Blackhawks fans tend to pin the goat horns on Crawford when he lets one leaky goal in per game. The feeling is that the team is just too talented to lose most nights and the only reason it does is that Crawford was not on top of his game. Despite leading Chicago to the Stanley Cup last year, few consider him in a category with the elite goalies in the game.
Crawford and the Chicago defense have to share the blame in Game 4. Crawford was shaky on two of the goals he allowed, and the Blackhawks defense had too many breakdowns and gave up outnumbered scoring opportunities throughout the game.
Normally dependable defensemen Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival had key giveaways that led to scoring opportunities for the Wild. Much of Minnesota's ability to push the pace and force the Blackhawks to play on their heels was due to the Wild's aggressiveness.
The Blackhawks were looking over their shoulders for long periods of the game, waiting for the next hit to come. Matt Cooke led the Wild with five hits, as he returned from his seven-game suspension with speed and vigor.
While the Blackhawks are not a physical team, they simply did not display the pushback that a championship team in a key playoff road game is supposed to demonstrate.
Wild Becoming Home Juggernaut
It's no surprise to see the Blackhawks display dominance when they play on home ice and salute the crowd at the United Center after they come out with a victory in any playoff game.
But in this series that has seen the home team win the first four games, the Wild may be even stronger at the Xcel Energy Center than the Blackhawks are in Chicago.
Head coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged how well the Wild played at home and how difficult they are to play against.
“They play hard in their building, and they’re good in their building, and they check well,” Quenneville said at his postgame press conference. “It’s tough to get momentum in here.”
The Minnesota home crowd was a huge factor. The fans serenaded Crawford throughout the game, with the loud sing-songy chanting of his name. While that's normal behavior for fans of any home playoff team, the Wild fans seemed louder and more determined to get under the opposing goalie's skin than most of their counterparts in other cities.
The Wild are now 5-0 at home during the postseason. They have outscored the Blackhawks 8-2 in two games at home after dominating the Colorado Avalanche by a cumulative 8-3 score in the first round of the playoffs in three games.
Minnesota's edge on home ice has given the team a sense of confidence that was unexpected in this series.
Niederreiter Provides Turning Point
The Minnesota Wild were the quicker and sharper team throughout the fourth game of their playoff series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
However, the Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, and when they find themselves getting out-skated, they tend to find ways to keep themselves in the game until they find their expected level. That's just what was happening in the second period.
Brent Seabrook fired a shot from the point that Michal Handzus tipped past Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at the six-minute, 28-second mark. That goal could have turned momentum in Chicago's favor, but Nino Niederreiter would have none of it.
Charlie Coyle started a fast-developing rush up the ice 44 seconds after the Handzus goal. He spotted Niederreiter turning on the jets through the neutral zone and hit him in stride with a tape-to-tape pass. As Niederreiter got to the top of the faceoff circle, he whipped a shot that went over Crawford's glove hand.
The goal gave Minnesota a 3-2 lead that it would not relinquish. The Wild continued to press the attack through the remainder of the game, and a third-period goal by Jared Spurgeon allowed them to add to their lead.
Niederreiter's goal was the turning point in the game, and it demonstrated the Wild's resiliency.
Bryzgalov Holds Up Once Again
Mike Yeo saw his team square its series with the Chicago Blackhawks when the Wild outplayed the Blackhawks significantly for 60 minutes.
That edge extended to the goaltending battle. Ilya Bryzgalov overcame a shaky start and did his part to help the Wild frustrate the Blackhawks.
Bryzgalov allowed two goals on Chicago's first five shots. Still, the Wild had a 3-2 lead when Bryzglov made the save of the game when he stopped Patrick Sharp on a breakaway in the second period.
Sharp had already scored a goal in the first period, and he had a glorious opportunity when he stole the puck at the Chicago blue line and went in on Bryzgalov. Sharp made a deke move and shifted the puck to his backhand. He appeared to have a small opening, but the Minnesota goalie extended his right pad (3:10 mark) and kept the puck out of the net.
Bryzgalov's play picked up from that point, and he kept the Blackhawks off the scoreboard the rest of the way. He stopped 18 of 20 shots in the game, and he earned praise from his coach.
“What I like about Bryz right now is he’s just part of the team,” Yeo told Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune. “He’s doing everything he can for his teammates. All he does is praise his teammates. For us, that makes us want to play harder for him.”