It took a while for everything to shake out but the 2nd round is finally here. The Blackhawks will face a familiar foe in the Minnesota Wild, who they eliminated in five games in the 1st round last spring.
We said in our earlier story today that this Wild team is a different one than the Blackhawks faced in the 2013 postseason. In the same token, the Blackhawks didn’t play this year’s 1st round like they did in 2013. They were sharper from the start this postseason, and that includes some of their stars’ performances.
So who has the edge? I’ve never been one to make predictions. As the great Yogi Berra once said, “It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” (Come on, that’s funny.) Instead, let’s show what each team brings in various categories; draw from them what you will. Then throw it all out and see how the games unfold.
Jonathan Toews didn’t need a series plus to get going in these playoffs. The Blackhawks captain has been on since Game 1 and has shown no ill effects from the upper-body injury that sidelined him the final few regular-season games. Toews has seven points through the first six games, including three game-winning goals. That latter number is the big one. On the other side, Minnesota forward Zach Parise’s 2014 postseason also contrasts with his 2013 campaign. He had just one 1st round point, a goal, last year; this year he scored 10 points against the Avs, including a four-point night in Game 6, when the Wild staved off elimination to force Game 7.
THE PUCK STOPS HERE
We’ll say this for the Blackhawks: there’s no doubt who’s going to be in goal for them in Game 1. Corey Crawford had a shaky start to the postseason but came around, recording a shutout in Game 3 and stopping 34 of 35 in Game 6, when the Blackhawks eliminated the Blues. Minnesota, meanwhile, has gotten good goaltending – they’ve just had to get it from several. Josh Harding, whose battle with multiple sclerosis is well documented, didn’t play often this regular season. Ilya Bryzgalov started the playoffs but struggled. He was replaced by Darcy Kuemper, who started the last five games and played very well before leaving due to injury late in Game 7. In came Bryzgalov, who Wild media report is also expected to start on Friday. Confused yet?
Neither the Wild nor the Blackhawks are producing much on their power plays. They’ve each had about the same amount of chances (the Wild’s 21 to Chicago’s 20) and each team has three power-play goals. On the flip side, both penalty kills have been tremendous. The Blackhawks’ kill is No. 1 this postseason, snuffing out 27 of 29 Blues chances. The Wild aren’t far behind, ranked fifth in the league in nixing 22 of 25 advantages.
Each team has some coming off its respective first-round series. The Blackhawks eliminated the big, bruising Blues in succinct fashion at home, blowing Game 6 open after playing a series worth of one-goal games. The Wild’s edge may be a bit fresher at the moment, however. The Wild got into Chicago on Thursday afternoon, likely still living off the thrilling Game 7 victory they attained in Colorado. Which will be more evident when the puck drops on Friday night?