Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Biggest Takeaways from 2nd-Round Series
Patrick Kane made his magic happen once again for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Even though his team was outplayed for the large majority of the game by the surprising and hungry Minnesota Wild, Kane was not about to let an opportunity to win the game pass in overtime. Kane simply took advantage of an awkward bounce off the stanchion, made a quick forehand-backhand deke and roofed the puck over Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Game over. Series over.
The 2-1 overtime winner came in Game 6, and it's quite clear that the speedy and athletic challengers from Minnesota pushed the defending Stanley Cup champions hard.
But the tag team of Kane and Jonathan Toews got the job done again, and they show no signs of slowing down.
Here are the biggest takeaways from this second-round series.
Can Toews and Kane Be Stopped?
Toews and Kane continue to form the best one-two punch in the NHL during the postseason.
A little over a month ago, Toews (upper body) and Kane (lower body) were both sidelined with injuries. While it seemed likely that both would be back for the playoffs—and they have been—nobody knew if the dynamic duo would be in top form.
Those questions have been answered in dramatic fashion.
Kane ended yet another series with a spectacular overtime goal. He scored the decisive goal in the Western Conference Final last year over the Los Angeles Kings with a slap shot in double overtime, and he brought the Blackhawks the 2010 Stanley Cup with his infamous snipe against the Philadelphia Flyers.
As good as that duo has been in the playoffs in past postseasons, they have been even better this year. Toews has scored five goals and five assists in 12 playoff games, and four of his goals have been game-winners. Kane has scored six goals and four assists, and three of his goals have been game-winners. Two of those decisive goals have come in overtime.
Toews and Kane supported each other throughout the year and have continued to do so in the playoffs. However, they clearly have engaged one another in a Stanley Cup playoff version of "Can You Top This?" and the Blackhawks are reaping the rewards.
Poor Puck Luck Keeps Wild from 7th Game
The Wild took it to the Blackhawks at the Xcel Energy Center in Games 3 and 4 and came away with decisive victories.
They played nearly as well in Game 6 on their home ice, but they couldn't bury their numerous chances and ended up dropping a 2-1 game in overtime.
The Wild will remember this game for missed opportunities, and nobody had more chances than Justin Fontaine. The elusive forward had four brilliant shots in the second period, and each one was turned away by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford. Fontaine finished the game with six shots on goal.
Jason Pominville also had two top-notch scoring opportunities, but he couldn't control the puck when looking at a nearly open net in the second period. He was stopped by the right pad of Crawford in the third period. Cody McCormick had a spinning shot in which he appeared to have the goalie at his mercy, but that was just a mirage.
Through nearly 70 minutes of action, the Wild won most of the races and battles for loose pucks. They had chance after chance and outshot the Blackhawks 35-27.
Speedy Erik Haula scored the Wild's only goal when he slipped past the defense and ripped one past Crawford.
The Wild gave everything they had but were just not quite good enough to push the series to seven games.
Crawford Provides Championship Goaltending
Crawford was the third star of the decisive Game 6 against the Wild.
Ahem. Is anyone really paying attention?
Kane did end the series with a spectacular rooftop backhander, and you cannot argue when he gets top honors for the game.
However, the story throughout Game 6 was the spectacular goaltending of Crawford. He was under a barrage of shots from the Wild, which basically dominated the game from the 10-minute mark of the first period until Kane ended matters.
The Wild were the faster and more aggressive team throughout all three home games, and that was enough to get them wins in Games 3 and 4. However, Crawford ratcheted up his intensity in Game 6 and stopped 34 of 35 shots.
Kane did not hesitate to credit Crawford with the victory as he spoke with Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I’m sure he wasn’t the happiest with us, the way we were playing in front of him. But he did what he does. He’s a great goaltender, and we feel he’s the best in the league for that reason.”
Crawford should have earned the first or second star for the game.
Stars Needed to Give Wild More
The stats say Wild superstars Zach Parise and Ryan Suter did a fine job overall in the postseason.
Parise scored four goals and 10 assists in 13 games for the Wild to lead the team, while Suter scored a goal and had six assists from his spot on the blue line while averaging 29:13 of ice time per game.
However, the Wild needed more from Parise and Suter, particularly in Games 5 and 6 against the Blackhawks. With the series on the line, neither Parise nor Suter had much of an impact.
They did not score a point in either of the last two games. Parise had a minus-one rating over the last two games, while Suter was minus-two.
While players like Haula, Fontaine, Keith Ballard and McCormick were trying to impose their will on the Blackhawks, Parise and Suter could not lead the team when the Wild needed it most.
There was nothing wrong with their effort, but Minnesota needed more production from its superstars in the most important games of the series.
Blackhawks Defense Has Questions to Answer
The Blackhawks have gone through two rounds of the playoffs and have beaten two tough teams: the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild.
That means this team is once again on track to win its second championship in a row and third in five years, right?
That's not necessarily the case. The Blackhawks will be pushed hard in the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks or the Los Angeles Kings, and if they are successful there, they will meet a tough opponent from the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Final.
However, the Blackhawks will have to show that their defensive crew is good enough to carry the load against the league's best opponents.
Head coach Joel Quenneville has every reason to feel good about his top four defensemen. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson have been dependable for years.
However, the rest of their defensive crew is somewhat shaky. Nick Leddy is a good skater who helps out on the power play, but he is prone to mistakes on the defensive end. Sheldon Brookbank is a bit more responsible, but he has problems defending the stretch pass. Michal Rozsival did not play in Games 5 or 6, and Quenneville may not trust him in crucial situations.
If the Blackhawks are going to survive the Western Conference Final and win the Stanley Cup again, they will need consistent play from all their defensemen.