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.
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.
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:
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.”
By playing in an exhibition game for Team USA against Austria at the 2015 World Hockey Championships, Auston Matthews made a small chunk of history. He’s the first player to get a look at that level before even being draft-eligible, as SI.com’s Alan Muir notes.
The 17-year-old managed to score in the 4-1 U.S. win against Austria, according to Team USA’s rundown. That same summary notes that Matthews is headed home from the tournament, so perhaps it was just a tantalizing glimpse into the future.
Muir does a great job summarizing Matthews’ recent accomplishments, which might be delightful fodder for those who are already wondering if their team needs to tank in 2015-16 (those people are probably out there, after all):
No matter how he fares, it’ll be another entry in one of the most impressive résumés ever written for an American-born prospect. Playing as a member of the U.S. National Team Development Program this season, the 6′ 2″, 194-pound Matthews broke Patrick Kane’s single-season scoring record with 55 goals and 116 points in just 60 games. He also stood out as a double-underager with the Americans at the 2015 World Juniors, tallying three points in five contests.
(Obviously he did OK, even if he’s headed home.)
The question, really, becomes how do you find a rhyme scheme to promote tanking for Matthews? Pile on for Auston, maybe?