Both of the afternoon games yesterday followed a similar pattern. We had two 1 vs. 8 matchups with the lower seed vastly outplaying the higher ranked team and both games going to overtime. The difference between the two games is unlike the Islanders, the Wild actually got rewarded for their efforts and were able to finish off the Blackhawks in overtime to stay alive in the series. After looking outmatched in Game Two, the one silver lining I could come up with for the Wild is that the next two games would be at home and could possibly come out stronger then and this is exactly what happened as Minnesota played their best game of the series and got a well-deserved OT win.
Not going to sugarcoat this, the Wild have been a bad team at even strength so I was a little surprise to see them outshoot the Hawks 31-24 at evens today and was even more surprised that they limited Chicago's high-powered offense to only 11 total scoring chances today. Minnesota doesn't have the best depth or a lot of offense, but they had a good game-plan for limiting Chicago's offense today. They were able to shut them down in the neutral zone, played physical against their top forwards and kept most of their shots to the outside. I'm not sure how much of it had to do with the Blackhawks not playing up to their ability (they looked flat for about 50 minutes) but the Wild were the better team yesterday and now have some hope in this series.
Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago started off this game strong with three unanswered chances in the first seven minutes but after that, it was all Minnesota. The Wild took over the game physically and territorially, outchancing Minnesota 15-3 over the next 30 minutes and allowing only two scoring chances in the entire second period. The only problem was that they weren't finishing any of their chances. They were able to test Corey Crawford plenty of times and had at least five tip-chances that missed the net, but none of them were able to get by the Chicago netminder. That is, until Zach Parise connected on a quick passing play from behind the net to give the Wild a 2-1 lead early in the third period.
All Minnesota had to do from that point was continue with their gameplan by frustrating Chicago in the neutral zone and not allow them to have the puck as much...which is exactly what they didn't do. The Wild began to sit back after taking the lead and the Hawks eventually woke up and began to slowly take over the game in the late stages and create more offense. Much like the Penguins, the Blackhawks have a ton of weapons who they can hurt you with so it's not going to take many chances for them to get one through and that's what happened late in the third period when Chicago gained some momentum and it led to Duncan Keith scoring the tying goal.
You just can't sit back against a team like Chicago and Minnesota had to find that out the hard way. They were relying on their top players to play a ton of minutes tonight and were basically rolling three lines & two defense pairings for the entire third period, so fatigue definitely set in by that point. Fortunately, they were able to beat Crawford on their first scoring chance of overtime come away with a win. Again, Minnesota played a very strong game but their lack of depth showed in that third period since they had a lot of tired players and are still having a lot of trouble with getting anything past Crawford even when they were creating more chances. The good news is that they can make this series a lot more interesting if they can continue to limit Chicago's offense but they will need a more complete performance because Chicago is a lot better than what they showed yesterday.
Blackhawks Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Patrick Kane +2
Worst EV Forwards: Michal Handzus, Marian Hossa & Viktor Stalberg -4
Best EV Defenseman: Duncan Keith +1
Worst EV Defensemen: Nick Leddy & Johnny Oduya -4
It was a rough game for everyone not named Duncan Keith or Patrick Kane as Chicago's defense and depth struggled a lot. Their first line had a "bad game" by their standards but put together a respectable performance overall and got a huge boost once Joel Quenneville replaced Marian Hossa with Patrick Kane on this line. Kane had the primary helpers on both of Chicago's goals and showed why you can not take shifts off against this team, his line especially. He seemed to be much more effective there as opposed to when he was being centered by Michal Handzus, who had a dreadful performance. Although, it's probably not fair to single him out because none of Chicago's depth forwards played well and their fourth line had another bad game in the scoring chance department.
Wild Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Jason Zucker +5
Worst EV Forward: Cal Clutterbuck -1
Best EV Defenseman: Tom Gilbert +3
Worst EV Defensemen: Ryan Suter & Marco Scandella +1
I mentioned depth was a reason for the Wild's collapse in the third period and the injury to Jason Zucker played a role in that. His line with Matt Cullen and Devin Setoguchi was easily the Wild's best unit at controlling scoring chances & their effectiveness went down after Zucker was replaced with Cal Clutterbuck. Fortunately for Minnesota, Zucker returned late in the third period and scored the game-winning goal in overtime. That goal was a bit of a softy from a bad angle, but Zucker had a very, very good game. He didn't get a ton of ice tiem and still managed to be on the ice for six scoring chances and produced four of them on his own. The Wild have desperately needed players who can control puck possession and Zucker looks like someone who can help them with that.
The Wild's defense corps as a whole also had a very strong game. They spent a good chunk of the third period without Tom Gilbert, which forced them to heavily rely on their top-pairing, but everyone came away in the black in scoring chances. Suter & Brodin were both very solid in giving up only five even strength chances despite playing over 25 minutes and even the Wild's third pairing managed to come away unscathed.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Going by the head-to-head report, Mike Yeo was content with having one of Koivu and Brodziak out against one of Chicago's top-two lines while the Cullen line got to play against Bickell, Stalberg & Shaw. His plan to protect the Cullen line paid dividends since that unit had a big game but Brodziak struggles against Toews. Also of note is that Suter & Brodin didn't completely shutdown the Toews line since that unit actually outchanced them but they were able to make up that damage by beating up the Handzus line whenever they were out against each other.
|1||CHI||6:43||Oduya - GOAL||19||81||88||27||32||50||17||22||11||44||77||37||5v5|
|1||MIN||1:30||bouchard - GOAL||26||81||20||2||4||50||21||96||22||6||46||37||5v5|
|3||MIN||16:51||Parise - GOAL||19||81||20||27||32||50||9||63||11||20||25||37||5v5|
|3||CHI||2:46||Keith - GOAL||65||10||88||2||7||50||9||63||11||6||20||37||5v5|
|OT||MIN||17:45||Zucker - GOAL||65||25||29||8||27||50||7||96||16||6||46||37||5v5|