ST. PAUL, Minn. – We’re back in Minnesota, home to some of the friendliest folks on earth and to cream of chicken and wild rice soup, perhaps one of the most delectable soups on earth.
What do either of those topics have to do with the Chicago Blackhawks? Nothing, really; we just felt like diverting a bit. Anyway, onto the Blackhawks, who looked like they were skating through soup – ah, there’s the tie-in – in Game 3 on Tuesday night. It was a forgettable game for the Blackhawks, who fell into playing the Wild’s game more than dictating their own.
One of the things the Blackhawks are splendid at, however, is playing well down the stretch of postseason series. They are 13-1 after Game 3s in their last five playoff series, a record that speaks well of their ability to play big when need be.
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Still, the Wild will have something to say about that. Will the Blackhawks run their series lead to 3-1 heading back to Chicago, or will it be deadlocked? Will we ever stop talking, or thinking, about that soup? While we ponder these questions and more, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Wild game.
1. Play your game. The Blackhawks’ pace was more like a snail’s on Tuesday night. Whether that was them struggling or the Wild tightening things up on them, the Blackhawks couldn’t get much going. They seemed content to play the wait-and-see game until it was too late, and by then the Wild weren’t relinquishing their lead. The Blackhawks have to dictate the pace more, especially from the start.
2. Challenge Ilya Bryzgalov. The Blackhawks got just 19 shots on the Wild goaltender on Tuesday night. They had just as many missed shots, too. The Blackhawks were lacking in net-front presence and prime scoring opportunities in Game 3, and it’s something they want to reverse here tonight. Bryzgalov has struggled at times with rebounds; the Blackhawks exploited that more in the first two games but not in the last one. They need to get in his head, and get more pucks on his net.
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3. Get a spark from the line changes. There’s one big reason why coach Joel Quenneville jumbles the lines the way he did entering tonight’s game: to get everyone going. Ben Smith needs to be motivated by his top-line promotion. Marcus Kruger needs to show the team he can be that guy, if they give him more than a 10-minute shot at it. Patrick Sharp needs to be energized, and perhaps a little angry, that he’s on the team’s third line. In all, players have to show more oomph than they did in Game 3. The changes should bring that.
4. Find the net-front presence again. This is one more department in which the Blackhawks were lacking on Tuesday. Sure, it’s where they miss Andrew Shaw the most; the feisty forward isn’t afraid to take his licks in the hope of screening, deflecting or redirecting shots. Others, however, need to take his place. Bryan Bickell needs to do it more; so does Ben Smith. The Blackhawks have to get back to getting those ugly goals.
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5. Our pick to click tonight is Duncan Keith. It was a year and two days ago when Keith went home for the birth of his son, came back to Minnesota and played a great Game 4 as the Blackhawks went up 3-1 in the series. We think he repeats that – the great game part, not the going-home part.