Jonathan Toews

Yeo: ‘I don’t know what team played that game tonight, but it wasn’t us’

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After suffering a 4-1 loss tonight, the Minnesota Wild are just two defeats away from being eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks for the third straight year. Certainly the team isn’t devoid of hope as the first two contests were in Chicago, so if Minnesota can defend the Xcel Energy Center in Games 3 and 4 then this will essentially be anyone’s series again.

Still just because a road to success remains doesn’t mean that it will be easy for Minnesota to travel. By the sounds of it, Wild coach Mike Yeo thinks they’ll need to make some adjustments to avoid falling victim to a familiar narrative.

“I don’t know what team played that game tonight, but it wasn’t us,” Yeo said, per the team’s Twitter feed. “I think we were focused on the goal, focused on the win, and not focused on the things we needed to do.”

Yeo still thinks the Wild have the personnel in place to win this series, but they have to crack down on the mental mistakes.

“It was a between the ears thing,” the bench boss told the Pioneer Press’ Chad Graff in reference to Sunday’s loss.

Among other things, the Wild need to limit Chicago’s top players. Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp each have three points already in this series while Jonathan Toews netted a shorthanded goal in Game 2. Complicating things further is the fact that Minnesota wasn’t that great of a home team in 2014-15. The Wild were 22-13-6 at the Xcel Energy Center, which ties them for the worst home record of any playoff team.

Wild can’t contain ‘Hawks star forwards in Game 2

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Part of the reason the Chicago Blackhawks have been successful over the last seven years is because they have so many top end forwards. How can you silence a team led by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa? The Minnesota Wild didn’t have the answer to that question tonight. Instead, they suffered a 4-1 loss to Chicago.

To Minnesota’s credit, the squad did hold its own defensively in the first half of the game. It took a great sequence by Hossa and Toews to break the scoreless tie at 12:28 of the second period, and even then the goal partially went in because Wild netminder Devan Dubnyk was the victim of some bad puck luck.

Minnesota might have been able to recover from that, but Kane made it 2-0 with roughly 20 seconds left in the second frame. Chicago hasn’t lost a contest in the regular season or playoffs when leading after 40 minutes and tonight was no exception.

Minnesota’s Matt Dumba made things interesting with a high shot that beat goaltender Corey Crawford, but Sharp was able to regain Chicago’s two-goal edge:

Kane helped himself to the empty netter to bring him up to five goals and 10 points in eight playoff games. He also has 101 points in 101 career postseason contests.

Minnesota was eliminated by Chicago in 2013 and 2014. The Wild were naturally hoping that this year would be different, but after falling behind 2-0 in the second round series, they have a very tough road ahead of them.

Video: Toews’ shorthanded shot barely crosses the line

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The Blackhawks and Wild were great defensively in the first half of Game 2, but someone had to score eventually and in the end it was captain Jonathan Toews that broke the scoreless tie.

While Chicago was shorthanded, Marian Hossa stole the puck from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and charged into Minnesota’s zone with Toews. Hossa feed the puck to his captain and Toews fired it at goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Dubnyk made the initial save, but the puck flew up and hit his stick before heading to the line. Suter knocked it away just a moment too late:

Just before the second period ended, Patrick Kane gave Chicago some breathing room and once again Suter found himself on the wrong end of the play:

Duncan Keith is a ‘freak’

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The disparity is huge. Duncan Keith is averaging 32:03, Kimmo Timonen just 10:22. The most ice time among Blackhawks defensemen, versus the least.

Partly by design and partly by necessity, Keith has been a workhouse for Chicago in these playoffs.

“He’s a freak,” Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said, per NHL.com. “He’s one of those athletes you don’t see every day. He’s as physically fit and prepared as they come, and he’s a guy that obviously loves playing hockey.”

Keith had three points in Game 6 versus Nashville, including the winning goal on a play that perfectly illustrated the 31-year-old’s ability to walk (dance?) the line and open shooting lanes:

Don’t expect the Blackhawks to lean any less on Keith in their series versus the Wild. Chicago’s defense has been under the microscope a lot this season, with inconsistent play from veterans Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival. The addition of 40-year-old Timonen has not done anything to quell concerns.

Said captain Jonathan Toews of Keith: “It’s huge for him to be as dynamic as he is offensively. But the minutes and the style that he plays, he means a lot to our team.”

On the difference between ‘good’ and ‘big-time’ players

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Let’s forget for just one second that Mike Babcock has a big decision to make about his future. This post isn’t an attempt to handicap where he’ll end up. We’ve already done plenty of that this season.

This post is applicable to fans of all 30 teams, not just those of the Detroit Red Wings. Because, for me, the one thing that Babcock said last night that really stood out was, per Yahoo Sports, the following:

“In the end, you’ve got to have big-time players up the middle and on the back to be successful. So those are questions in our organization that we work towards, drafting good and developing good, but we’ve been winning too much (in the regular season to get high draft picks). That’s the facts.”

When the Wings last won the Cup, they had two “big-time” centers in Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg and one “big-time” defenseman in Nicklas Lidstrom.

Not just “good,” but “big-time.” As in, future Hall of Famers. Elite. Best of the best.

Since Lidstrom retired, the Wings have not been past the second round of the playoffs.

In a related story, the Philadelphia Flyers never recovered from losing Chris Pronger and the future of the Boston Bruins is in question with an aging Zdeno Chara.

The last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Chara, Duncan Keith or Drew Doughty. All three are future Hall of Famers.

As for “up the middle,” Babcock asked last night, “Who’s going to replace Pav?” That’s a good question, because Datsyuk will turn 37 in July. A winner of three Selke Trophies, he’s one of the best two-way forwards in the history of the game.

Another related story: the last five Stanley Cup winners have featured one of Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, or Anze Kopitar. Again, all three are future Hall of Famers.

Meanwhile, there’s a reason there’s so much excitement in Edmonton about Connor McDavid, a center. Yet equally important will be the development of d-man Darnell Nurse.

Ditto for Buffalo, where there’s plenty of excitement for Jack Eichel; just don’t overlook the development of Rasmus Ristolainen and Nikita Zadorov.

And for all the strife we’ve seen in Toronto, Leafs fans can at least be hopeful about Morgan Rielly and William Nylander. Toronto hasn’t had a “big-time” center since Mats Sundin. And did you know the Leafs, an Original Six franchise, have never had a Norris Trophy winner? The closest any Toronto blue-liner has come in the modern era is Borje Salming. The Leafs have not won a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Look, nobody’s saying a team absolutely has to have a Norris Trophy winner on defense and a Selke Trophy/Hart Trophy winner at center. There are always going to be exceptions. The 2006 Hurricanes didn’t have an elite d-man, though people sometimes forget they had Rod Brind’Amour, a two-time Selke winner.

The thing is, you don’t build a team based on the exceptions. Otherwise, every NFL team would be looking for the next Trent Dilfer.

“We’ve got lots of good young players, no question about it, and ideally we’ve got some good ones coming,” Babcock said.

But are any going to be “big-time” centers or defensemen?

Not just good.

“Big-time.”