Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks Game 5: Keys for Each Team
The Blackhawks were the slower and less decisive team in both of those games. They dropped 4-0 and 4-2 decisions in Minnesota as the Wild outhustled and outworked them.
The Blackhawks have been challenged before in the playoffs and they have usually found a way to respond. It seems clear that captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are going to have to lead the way—or at least play a key role—if the Blackhawks are going to win the pivotal fifth game of this series.
Here's a look at the keys for each team in Game 5.
Minnesota Wild Key: Continue to Take the Body
The Minnesota Wild came out firing on all cylinders in Game 4 as they outskated and outworked the Chicago Blackhawks.
That manifested itself in many areas, and perhaps the most obvious was in the physical play. The Wild registered a 22-7 edge in the hits department as they regularly punished the Blackhawks with hard checks that allowed them to gain possession and make plays.
The Wild needs to continue to assert their physical edge even though this game will be played at the United Center. Matt Cooke returned from a seven-game suspension to lead the Wild with five hits in Game 4, and five of his teammates registered multiple hits in the game.
On the other hand, Michal Rozsival registered two hits for the Blackhawks, and none of his teammates had more than one hit.
If the Wild can continue to register a better than 3-1 edge in the hits department, they have an excellent chance of coming up with the road win they will need to capture this series.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Rediscover Relentless Offense
The Chicago Blackhawks have been one of the most explosive offensive teams in the NHL for years.
They rely on puck possession to create scoring opportunities and that often results in healthy shots-on-goal totals.
The Blackhawks have played 85 Stanley Cup playoff games since 2003, and they have registered 25 shots on goal or more in 77 of those games. None of them have been in the first four games against the Minnesota Wild, according to Shawn Roarke of NHL.com.
Minnesota has used a forceful defensive style that has prevented the Blackhawks from mounting their usual type of attack. They have been chasing the puck throughout the series, and they have struggled to possess the puck the way head coach Joel Quenneville expects. That was particularly true in the two games in Minnesota.
If the Blackhawks want to regain control of the series, they need to fire more shots at Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Minnesota Wild Key: Take an Early Lead
Prior to scoring three goals in the first and second periods in Game 4, the Minnesota Wild had not scored prior to the third period in any game in this series.
While that was a key factor in back-to-back losses in the first two games of the series, they managed to win Game 3 because the Blackhawks could not get on the scoreboard in the first 40 minutes, either.
Throughout this series, the team that has scored the first goal has not fallen behind in any of the games. That means the Wild would be well advised to play the same kind of aggressive game at the United Center that they did in their two games at the Xcel Energy Center.
Much of the responsibility will fall on the shoulders for Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. The two superstars took on leadership roles and played with relentlessness in Minnesota after less-than-stellar efforts in Chicago.
Both players need to compete in a dynamic manner in Game 5. Parise had five shots on goal and an assist while playing 19:41 in Game 4. Suter was even more effective as he had two assists, finished with a plus-two rating and was on the ice for 31:30.
When those two are playing well, the Wild compete with a sense of confidence and the rest of the players are more aggressive. Players like Nino Niederreiter, Erik Haula, Jared Spurgeon and Charlie Coyle have been quite effective when Parise and Suter assert themselves.
If Parise or Suter can contribute an early goal in Game 5, the Wild have a much better chance of breaking through on the road.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Crawford Must Return to Top Form
Corey Crawford did not get a lot of help from the Blackhawks defense in either game played at the Xcel Energy Center. However, he was not at his best in Game 4 when he gave up shaky goals to Jason Pominville and Nino Niederreter in the second period.
The Niederreiter goal was particularly painful because it came less than a minute after the Blackhawks had tied the score at 2-2 on an artful tip by Michal Handzus. Niederreiter fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that blew by an unscreened Crawford.
The Blackhawks never recovered and the Wild continued to press the attack after that goal.
While Crawford's gaffe hurt the Blackhawks in Game 4, he has a history of rebounding after struggling in the playoffs. He gave up five goals to the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final last year and he appeared to have a weakness on shots to the glove side.
However, Crawford rebounded by holding the Bruins to three goals over the next two games as the Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks need a similar bounce-back performance in Game 5.
Minnesota Wild Key: Bryzgalov Must Play Well at the United Center
The Minnesota Wild survived their two games at home with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal.
The wildly inconsistent goalie recorded a shutout in Game 3, and after giving up two nervous looking goals in Game 4, he kept the Blackhawks from putting the puck in the net in the final 33-plus minutes of Game 4.
But Bryzgalov's postseason track record has to give Wild head coach Mike Yeo pause for concern. Bryzgalov has a 2.91 goals-against average this year along with an .866 save percentage. He had a 3.46 GAA and an .887 save percentage for the Flyers in 2012 and a 4.36 GAA and an .879 save percentage for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011.
Bryzgalov has not allowed less than three goals in any road playoff game since leading the Coyotes to a 5-2 win at Detroit in 2010. He has given up three or more goals in 11 straight postseason road starts since then.
If Bryzgalov can't come up with a solid performance in Game 5, the Wild will have very little chance of returning home with the lead in the series.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Turn Around the Special Teams
The Chicago Blackhawks came up with a dynamic special-teams showing in Game 1 against the Minnesota Wild. They scored twice in four power-play opportunities while keeping the Wild off the scoreboard in three of their own opportunities with the man advantage.
However, since that game the Blackhawks have not held their own on special teams. They have not scored a power play goal in six opportunities, while they have allowed the Wild to score two power plays in 10 chances.
It's not just the goal totals, either. Minnesota has been able to hold onto the puck during their power-play opportunities and create scoring chances with regularity. That has allowed them to gain momentum and press the Blackhawks once the power play is over.
Chicago needs Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith to assert themselves with the man advantage and help the Blackhawks get back on track with their special teams.
The Blackhawks will once again be without Andrew Shaw, who is an agitator and strong net-front presence on the power play. Shaw has not played since the first game of the series.