For the third straight year, the #3 Chicago Blackhawks will face off against the #4 Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the past two postseason meetings, we have seen the experienced Blackhawks dominate a Wild team that simply lacked the firepower to keep up. This year, however, could be different. While I still believe the Blackhawks will advance to the Western Conference Finals after seven close games, I could easily see the Wild steal an overtime win on the road to take the series. Unlike prior post-season meetings, the underdog Minnesota Wild cannot and should not be taken lightly. They looked tremendous against the St. Louis Blues, winning in 6, and have been a force to be reckoned with since the acquisition of Devan Dubnyk from the Phoenix Coyotes. The Blackhawks are going to need a much better effort if they want advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight year. Here is a look at what I believe the Blackhawks need to do in order to eliminate a surging Minnesota Wild team.
Keys For the Blackhawks
1. Controlling the puck in the Offensive Zone
The Blackhawks need to keep Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk on his toes at all times. There is no better way to do this then by winning faceoffs in the offensive zone and controlling the puck in Wild territory. The Wild rise and fall with Vezina Trophy finalist Devan Dubnyk’s play and if the Hawks can get a few goals off of rebounds or deflections, it will be that much harder for the Wild to win.
2. Joel Quinneville
The role of an NHL head coach during the playoffs is highly unrecognized and discredited. If it were up to me, Blackhawks head coach Joel Quinneville would have been the number one star in the Blackhawks first round win against Nashville. Coach Q just seems to know how to get the best out of all of his players at the right times. In Game 1 of the Nashville series, Corey Crawford allowed three goals in the first period. While it seemed like a no brainer for Quinneville to pull the struggling Crawford from net at this point, Quinneville had complete faith in backup Scott Darling and watched the ‘Hawks rally around a remarkable effort by Darling to win 4-3 in overtime. For the ‘Hawks, the competition surrounds not only the goaltender position, but also the later forward lines. Guys like Antoine Vermette and Andrew Dejardins were healthy scratches for two games of the series, but when given their opportunities on the ice, they proved Quinneville’s tactics effective as each tallied goals at critical points during the series.
3. Bryan Bickell
Now is as good a time as any for Bickell to step up his game and there is no team he’d rather face. In the past two post-season matchups against the Minnesota Wild, Bickell netted a remarkable seven goals in 11 games. As of late, however, Bickell has struggled to have a huge impact on the ice. While he did record two assists in the Nashville series, he missed several good opportunities and never found the back of the net. Regardless of his struggles in the Nashville series, Quinneville has elected to move Bickell up to the second line to establish a net presence and play alongside Brad Richards and Patrick Kane. Bickell’s success in the playoffs is the reason for his large contract and he needs to prove his worth to Rocky Wirtz during this series.
Round 2 Prediction
Blackhawks fall 2-1 to open the series, but capture three of the next four games to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight year.
Ryan Suter will shut down Jonathan Toews and the first line, but Patrick Kane and the second line will more than make up for it.