ST. PAUL, Minn. – Winning on the road. You can’t get far in a postseason without doing it.
The Chicago Blackhawks have done this very well over their last few playoff runs. What they haven’t done well is win that first road game of a playoff series; the Blackhawks have lost their last eight of those.
Strange, isn’t it? It’s rarely mattered, though; the Blackhawks have won enough other road games, coupled with their great home record, to make it a non-issue.
Still, the Blackhawks would love nothing more than to nix that skid, take Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center and really put the pressure on the Minnesota Wild. They’ll try to do it with Niklas Hjalmarsson, who will play but cannot talk after taking a puck to his throat in Game 2 on Sunday. They’ll also try to do it without Andrew Shaw, who is out for the second consecutive game with an apparent right-leg injury.
Will the Blackhawks reverse their trend of playoff series road openers? Will we ever have the resolve to bypass the dessert section at Cossetta Alimentari down the street? While we ponder these questions and others, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Wild game.
1. Play the simple road game. The Blackhawks are no longer in front of the United Center crowd, where they can get a little too fancy sometimes. Sure, some of those goals in recent home games have been pretty – please see Patrick Kane’s go-ahead goal from Game 1. But simple replaces style on the road. It’s not about putting together samples for the highlight reel tonight; it’s about stealing a game in hostile territory.
2. Keep all lines involved. Yes, we understand the playoffs are a different bird; that desire to roll all four lines isn’t always fulfilled. Still, if the Blackhawks can get that fourth line of Jeremy Morin (or Brandon Bollig), Michal Handzus and Kris Versteeg to take on more minutes it would be helpful. It all depends on how the game goes, of course; if there are a lot of special teams, especially penalty killing, all four won’t be rolling. The Blackhawks’ third line showed more life in Game 2, sparked in large part by Brandon Saad’s two-goal outing. Just getting more minutes for that fourth line, however, would be beneficial.
3. Bring your best outing. Let’s be honest: the Blackhawks haven’t done this in this series yet. They were decent in Game 1, better in Game 2 but they still haven’t played a true, 60-minute Blackhawks game to this point. Do they have that complete game this evening?
4. Stay sharp, Mr. Crawford. Corey Crawford has been good in the first two games, especially in Game 1 when the Blackhawks spent most of the second period on the penalty kill. But the Wild have also been a little snake-bit. Minnesota has missed wide on a few shots and it’s hit a few posts. The law of averages says those shots start getting on net soon, perhaps even tonight. Crawford needs to stay on his toes.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Patrick Sharp. The Blackhawks left wing says his game is fine but the numbers, especially in the goal category, haven’t been there. We say he breaks out of that tonight.