For those who thought the Blackhawks should have buried Minnesota third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper with more than just two goals and 18 shots, consider that Chicago was busy killing four penalties over those final two periods. They did so pretty well, too, killing off all six penalties on the night. It was a high number for them, and they allowed just seven shots in those twelve minutes down a man.
In the process, they sacrificed themselves physically, and when they do that, it translates into a game that means a little more to them than Game 3 appeared to. The visiting team recorded 26 blocked shots in all.
Another area where they had to be better was the faceoff circle, and they were -- to the tune of 54 percent. They'll need Michael Handzus to be better than 8-of-17 as these playoffs go along, and Andrew Shaw to be better than 2-of-9. Going back to the penalty kill, they'll face better, deeper offenses the farther they go into the postseason. But that takes nothing away from Corey Crawford, whose collection of clutch stops this series has to make him stronger, even more than the six goals allowed in four games.
While Marian Hossa got his third point of the series with an assist during his handful of shifts with Patrick Sharp and Handzus last night, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad still haven't dented the scoresheet. But they're not alone if you take a look over on the other side. Consider what the Hawks have done defensively against the Wild's top three scorers during the regular season. Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter have combined for one goal, no assists, and a minus-14 rating.
The Blackhawks really took the best the Wild had in Game 3 and almost won, anyway. Provided they're ready to play Thursday, they should advance to the second round for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup. Then they'll wait and see whether Detroit can upset second-seeded Anaheim (currently tied 2-2). If they do, they'll face their longtime rival in the postseason one last time before they head to the East.
If they don't, they'll be facing an improving San Jose team that was a semi-seller at the trade deadline while cleaning some house and still trying to find a way into the post-season. They've vanquished Vancouver in four straight, and now wait to see whether they get the Hawks, the Ducks, or the winner of the Blues-Kings war.
If it winds up being San Jose, storylines will overflow, from another Raffi Torres encounter, to Toews-versus-Thornton, to Adam Burish, to Antti Niemi. The Blackhawks' Cup-winning goalie finished the first round with a .937 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average (Crawford: 1.39, .949). And that Hawks' penalty kill that's allowed just two power play goals over the last 24 games goes up against a power play that burned the Canucks with three apiece in Games 3 and 4.
But that's a story for another day. First things first: Thursday.