The emotions were high, a byproduct of the postseason beginning and especially beginning it at home.
But the Chicago Blackhawks’ game pace out of the gate didn’t match those revved-up emotions. They got better as the game went along, evidenced by their 2-1 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 on Tuesday night. But that start for Game 2, against a desperate Wild team that will be showing even more of that on Friday, has to be better.
“I think for Game 1 we were ready. Emotionally we were fired up, perhaps too much,” Patrick Sharp said. “You can put part of that on the excitement and nerves of being in the playoffs. You can also give Minnesota credit for playing a good first period. We worked hard to get home ice advantage. We want to keep our crowd into it; they give us energy. So starting fast in Game 2 is important.”
Defenseman Johnny Oduya, who set up the game-winning goal with a beautiful pass out of the Blackhawks’ zone, agreed.
“We felt it was a little slow and maybe working out some nerves in that first period, too. It’s something that can happen: we’re all very excited and want to do well, and sometimes that’s how it starts,” Oduya said. “We turned it around pretty good, where in the second, third and overtime we felt better. But going forward, obviously we want a better start.”
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The Blackhawks shook off those nerves and emotions as Tuesday’s game wore on. The Wild were probably experiencing plenty of the same, given their five-year absence from the playoffs. They also had to readjust quickly to Josh Harding starting the game in place of Niklas Backstrom, who got hurt in pregame warmups. The Wild adjusted quicker, amping up their defense to protect Harding. The Blackhawks know they have to attack the net more an earlier than they did Tuesday.
“It’s up to us to be as tough as we can be on their goaltender, maybe get more second efforts and traffic in front of him,” Jonathan Toews said. “We just have to keep wearing him down as much as we can. We got better as the game went. We want to maintain that control early in the game but wear them down defensively as much as we can.”
The Blackhawks won’t complain with how Game 1 ended. By that point, they were back to playing their type of game, dictating more and raising the tempo. That’s fine. It’ll be even better when it’s there from the start again.
“First game, whether it was the buildup or anticipation (of the playoffs), it’s certainly not the type of start we’ve seen throughout the season,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We want to make sure we’re starting quicker and have a faster game. We want to make sure we’re at the same pace with our start and finish.”