Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild Game 6: Keys for Each Team
The Minnesota Wild have been here before.
They know what it's like to lose on the road and win at home in a playoff series. That's the pattern they are following against the Chicago Blackhawks and that's just what they did for six games in their opening round series against the Colorado Avalanche.
They finally came through on the road in overtime of the seventh game.
The Wild would like to have the same opportunity against the Blackhawks. If they are going to get a fourth chance to prove they can win at the United Center, they must defend their home ice at the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night.
While they won their two previous home games rather decisively, they will have to find a way to outskate and outwork the Blackhawks to earn a seventh-game opportunity.
Here are the keys for each team in Game 6.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Bickell Must Continue to Produce
This has gotten to the point of being ridiculous.
Is there any player in any sport, let alone the NHL, who outstrips his regular-season performance with his playoff showing more than Bryan Bickell?
The burly Blackhawks winger finds himself in a four-way tie for first atop the NHL's playoff goal-scoring leaders. Bickell scored a power play goal Sunday night against the Wild, and that gave him six goals in the postseason. He is tied with Marian Gaborik, Jussi Jokinen and Evgeni Malkin for the league lead in that category.
If Bickell had average regular-season production, it would be surprising to see him among the leaders. But Bickell did not have an average year. He scored 11 goals and four assists in 58 regular-season games. Joel Quenneville regularly lost patience with his lack of production and impact.
But Bickell is simply a different player once the postseason begins. He uses his 6'4", 233-pound frame to pound bodies, take up space in front of the net and intimidate opponents. He also takes his surprisingly hard wrist shot out of mothballs and unleashes it on opposing goalies.
Bickell has been a going concern in this series with four goals against the Wild. He needs to keep it going in Game 6 if the Blackhawks are going to keep this series from going seven games.
Minnesota Wild Key: Activate the Defense
The numbers and the facts say this has been a home team-dominated series through the first five games.
The Blackhawks have won three games at the United Center, while the Wild have won two games at the Xcel Energy Center. Since Game 6 is in Minnesota, the Wild should have no trouble winning.
While the Wild may very well win the game and extend the series to seven games, it's not just about location. This is not a real estate duel.
Mike Yeo's Wild changed its strategy after losing the first two games in Chicago. When the Wild came home, the defense stepped up and got involved in the offensive attack.
When Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella started looking for opportunities to jump into the fray, it made the Wild more dangerous. They started creating more scoring opportunities and tested goalie Corey Crawford with greater frequency.
The strategy produced two victories in Minnesota and the Wild nearly stole Game 5 at the United Center. Look for the Wild to continue to play attacking hockey as their defensemen jump into the attack in Game 6.
Suter and Spurgeon have overpowering shots from the point, while Brodin and Scandella can carry the puck and skate well. This has created problems for Chicago and the Blackhawks may not have an answer for Minnesota's active blue liners.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Toews Tearing It Up
Captain Serious always finds a way to get the job done.
The Blackhawks needed Jonathan Toews to make a play Sunday night in Game 5, and he came through in the third period with the score tied 1-1. He laid out Mikael Granlund with a hard check, went to the front of the net and batted in a loose puck for the game-winning goal.
Toews has already scored four game-winning goals during the postseason. He is playing like he wants to win his second Conn Smythe Trophy. He won that award in 2010 when the Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.
Bobby Hull (1971), Darryl Sutter (1985) and Dustin Byfuglien (2010) are the other Blackhawks to score four game-winning goals in the same playoff year, according to Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Chicago has had a difficult time in its two previous games in Minnesota. The Blackhawks were outscored 8-2 while losing both games.
If any player on the team is going to rise up and show leadership on the road, it's almost certainly going to be Toews.
He is tough, smart, determined and skilled. Those winning characteristics could make the difference in Game 6 for Chicago.
Minnesota Wild Key: Zach Parise Must Lead His Team
Zach Parise has had a remarkable postseason. The Wild are depending on him to step up his performance even more from this point forward.
Minnesota has been impressive in the last three games of the series. In addition to winning the games played on home ice, they may have been the better team in Game 5 even though the score of the game (2-1, Chicago) did not reflect it.
Parise is the offensive key for the Wild when it comes to winning Game 6. He has quickness, a hard shot and great balance in tight quarters that allows him to win puck battles. But the Wild signed him two years ago as much for his intangibles as they did for his ability.
Parise had proven himself as one of the game's best leaders and clutch performers long before he pulled on a Minnesota uniform. He was the best player for the U.S. Olympic team when it got to the gold medal game against Canada in 2010. His late goal sent that game to overtime.
Parise has four goals and 10 assists in his first 12 playoff games this year. The Wild need him to have a huge performance in Game 6 if they are going to force a decisive seventh game.
Chicago Blackhawks Key: Joel Quenneville's Lineup
With a team that has won two Stanley Cup titles in the last four years, there is a strong dependence on the team's core to get the job done once again.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. When you have a lineup that includes Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, it's difficult for Joel Quenneville to look at the rest of his bench and ask somebody else to do the job.
However, that's just what Quenneville must do. If the Blackhawks get over-dependent on their stars, they will burn out, run out of gas or eventually fall short of expectations.
Sometimes the role players have to come through. It's just a matter of which role players Quenneville chooses.
In Game 5, he activated Peter Regin to play the role of fourth-line center. Quenneville didn't like the way his fourth line had played against the Wild, so he decided to give the speedy Regin a shot. While Regin did not score a point, he attacked the net and opened up the ice.
He went hard at Ilya Bryzgalov in the second period, and Jonas Brodin was forced to take a hooking penalty to keep Regin from getting a good scoring opportunity. The Blackhawks scored the tying goal on the subsequent power play.
Regin saw 11:27 of ice time and that kept him from tapping Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa too much on the shoulder.
Quenneville has to make sure he gives his third- and fourth-liners adequate time to keep from wearing out his top stars.
Minnesota Wild Key: Mike Yeo's Psychological Abilities
Mike Yeo has to do a lot more than tap his players on the shoulders and work out line combinations.
That's part of it, but the Minnesota head coach has to play the role of master psychologist, especially in this series.
No matter what the Wild players tell the media or how they act in front of the television cameras, they have a formidable task in competing with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
The Wild made the playoffs last year and won their first postseason series since 2003 this year. The Blackhawks are clearly formidable competition.
Part of Yeo's job is to make sure his players believe in themselves. Not just say they believe, but actually know it in their hearts.
The other part of Yeo's psychological responsibilities may be even more important. He has to keep goalie Ilya Bryzgalov prepared to play his best hockey.
Bryzgalov has played quite well in his last three games (1.33 goals-against average), but his postseason history indicates that could change at any moment.
Yeo has to work his goalie properly if he wants to keep him on top of his game. Yeo needs to let his goalie know that he believes in him, without going too far so the goalie knows his coach is exaggerating.
If Yeo can prepare his team for a peak performance, the Wild should have a good opportunity to survive Game 6.