Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Biggest Takeaways from Game 2
The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks have found their stride. They pulled away from the Minnesota Wild in the third period for the second consecutive game, and they will take a 2-0 lead to Minnesota when the teams meet at the Xcel Energy Center Tuesday night.
Chicago defeated Minnesota, 4-1, in Game 2 of the series Sunday afternoon.
The Blackhawks have received timely scoring and solid goaltending in the first two games of the series. The Wild seemed to control the action for long periods in both games in Chicago, but the lack of finishing ability on excellent scoring chances has been a problem for Mike Yeo's team thus far.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Game 2 of the series.
Jonathan Toews Takes Responsibility Once Again
Jonathan Toews captured the Conn Smythe Trophy when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
He is playing like he wants to win that award for the second time in 2014.
Toews is the textbook definition of a complete player, and he put all his skills on display in the 4-1 victory in Game 2. Take the opening goal of the game. Marian Hossa went in alone on Minnesota goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, and he appeared to have the Wild goaltender at his mercy. However, Bryzgalov made a spectacular save that could have given his team momentum.
But Toews never stopped hustling on the play, and he managed to get between two Wild defensemen and corral the rebound. He buried the shot for the all-important opening goal of the game.
In addition to his goal, Toews won 55 percent of the faceoffs that he took, he delivered two hits and he also was on top of his game defensively.
It may seem like just a typical Toews game, but he plays the game at a level that very few players can ever reach.
Zach Parise Was Just Another Guy
It's time for Zach Parise to join the battle.
While he was one of the best players in the first round of the playoffs against the Colorado Avalanche, he has not played to that level against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Parise was nowhere near his best in Game 2. He couldn't make any key plays on the offensive end, and he just seemed a half-step slower than he is on most nights.
The numbers bear this out. He was held off the scoresheet in 19 minutes and 18 seconds of action, and he also finished with a minus-three rating.
Parise played a big role on Brandon Saad's goal in the second period that gave Chicago a 2-0 lead. As Saad curled between the circles to look for a shooting angle, Parise left his stick in his shooting lane. Saad twisted off a wrister, and it deflected perfectly off Parise's stick and into the top corner of the net. Bryzgalov never had a chance to stop that puck.
Parise had his own chance to score in the third period after the Wild cut the lead to 2-1, but he couldn't finish on his opportunity from the slot.
Parise's inability to play to his standards cost the Wild dearly in Game 2.
Bryan Bickell Is a Playoff Monster
Bryan Bickell lives for the playoffs.
The Blackhawks' burly left wing is an enigma in the regular season to head coach Joel Quenneville because he often appears to play disinterested hockey. But once he gets to the playoffs, it's a different story.
Bickell was at his best in Game 2 against the Wild. He scored a goal (his fifth of the postseason) on a laser of a wrist shot in the third period, and he had two assists as well. Bickell set Hossa up with a first-period breakaway, and he also gave Saad a tape-to-tape pass on his goal in the third period.
That was the same Bickell who had four—four!—assists during the entire regular season.
Bickell also registered two big hits, as he is not afraid to use his 6'4", 233-pound frame to punish opponents in the corner and win the physical battle.
Quenneville is obviously pleased with the way Bickell is playing now after a difficult regular season. He told CSN Chicago's Tracey Myers that the big left wing is coming into form in the playoffs once again.
His play all year long was ordinary until the end of the year when he was trending, looking like he was going to play in the playoffs. In the playoffs (last year) we gave him a lot more responsibility and he just seemed to grab it; he got more and more quality and quantity of ice time in big games. He earned it, deserved it, got rewarded in the summer and now he’s playing exactly the same way. We’re happy with the contribution we’re getting from him but I thought he and that line had a special game today.
Goaltending Improvement for Wild
Yeo has little choice when it comes to his team's goaltending. Rookie goalie Darcy Kuemper took a blow to the head in the Wild's Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, and he was forced to insert the erratic Bryzgalov back in goal.
Bryzgalov was shaky before he was replaced by Kuemper in the opening round.
But the Wild goaltending is his responsibility until Kuemper gets back to full health. Bryzgalov may have looked ordinary in giving up four goals in the opening 5-2 loss in the series (one was an empty-netter), but he was much better in Game 2.
He made a spectacular save on Hossa's first-period breakaway, but he was let down by his defense when Toews hunted down the rebound and scored.
He had little chance on Saad's second-period tally because the shot deflected off Parise's stick and went into the top corner of the net. He had a much better chance to stop Bickell's third-period goal, but that was a vicious shot that was well placed.
So, while the numbers were not impressive—Bryzgalov stopped 18 of 21 shots and had an .857 save percent in the game—he played a solid game and should not be blamed for the defeat.
Defense Makes the Difference for the Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are a team loaded with superstars who can fill up the net in any given game.
However, they wouldn't have won two championships in the previous four seasons without a full commitment to defense. Chicago's ability to play in its own zone is often overlooked because of spectacular playmakers like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Toews and Hossa.
But the defense often leads the way, and that was the case in Game 2. In addition to holding the Wild to one goal, the defense clogged the passing and shooting lanes.
The Blackhawks blocked 25 shots in the game—the Wild had 11—and nobody was more effective at the practice than defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. The Swedish defenseman was credited with four blocks, including one painful shot that hit him in the face/neck area that caused him to go down on the ice for a minute.
Despite the pain, Hjalmarsson returned to the ice almost immediately.
The Blackhawks played effective defense against the Wild throughout the game, and it was a big reason for their Game 2 victory.