The second round has arrived, with the Chicago Blackhawks once again seeing the Minnesota Wild in the postseason.
We’ve already talked about how this Wild team is different than the one the Blackhawks saw last spring. They’re healthier through the forward ranks and are still flying high off their seven-game series victory over the Colorado Avalanche.
Obviously, the Blackhawks aren’t the same team from that first round, either. They started off that one slow. This spring, they’re coming off a high-intensity series against the St. Louis Blues as second-round preparation.
Will the Wild carry that adrenaline rush into this second round? Will the Blackhawks be ready from the start, despite several days of no games? Will the sun ever shine in Chicago again? I mean, we get it, May is no guarantee the weather’s going to improve, but come on.
Anyway, while we ponder those questions — especially the one about the sun — let’s look at Five Things to watch for in Game 1 between the Blackhawks and Wild.
1. Start fast. The Wild may have the early momentum advantage, given its first-round triumph was just two days ago. The Blackhawks need to put Minnesota on its heels, especially in those opening minutes. Put doubt in their players’ minds and take away that energy they’re riding off that impressive elimination of the Avalanche.
2. Keep Bryzgalov busy. Ilya Bryzgalov had a strong stretch as the regular season ended, going 5-1-1 in his final seven starts. In the playoffs, however, things got ugly fast. Bryzgalov allowed five goals in the Wild’s Game 1 loss; he allowed three in the first 32 minutes of Game 2 before Darcy Kuemper replaced him. The Blackhawks need to attack Bryzgalov early and often to try and disrupt him again.
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3. Get Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp going early this series. Sure, both had their contributions in the first round, especially given Hossa’s defensive game. But they’re both paid, ultimately, to score goals. Sharp had a wonky score in Game 6; hey, whatever jump-starts your offense, you’ll take. If these two get going, and the rest of the Blackhawks’ stars continue to be strong, it could be a short series.
4. Keep the penalty total low. Yes, we’re transferring this one over from the first round because the Blackhawks didn’t reduce their penalties in the first round. Sure, the Blues play a style that is physical and frustrating, and many of the Blackhawks’ penalties were responses to all of that. This is a different series. But whether it’s frustration, retaliation or lazy penalties (those hooks and holds that drive coaches and fans crazy), the Blackhawks need them out of their game.
5. Our pick to click tonight is Patrick Kane. The Blackhawks right wing looked his best in Game 4, when he scored two goals including the overtime game-winner. The Wild love to stifle opposing stars but we think Kane breaks through regardless.