First of all, Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mom’s around the world. All of us, wouldn’t be here without you. You were probably there when we first learned how to skate, or the near endless amount of hours driving in a car to arenas all over for practice or games. Even if you found it to be boring you never let on that it was. At times you had to fill in as a scorekeeper or the manager of the penalty box. You tackled those tasks as you did with everything; with a smile and without complaint. To all of the hockey mom’s out there, we owe you a huge THANK YOU! There is no doubt, that all of the players in tonight’s playoff game owe their careers to the efforts of their moms. So with Mother’s Day in the background the Wild and Blackhawks will likely put all of those warm feelings aside and get ready for what will be a bitter battle in Game 5 in Chicago.
Chicago’s Brandon Bollig was suspended for 2 games for his vicious hit from behind on Keith Ballard. The Wild are feeling the momentum of two victories where they really have dominated Chicago. Chicago is a team that seems to be searching for answers, they are sounding like a desperate team. The Wild need to keep applying the pressure and break their spirit. Can Minnesota earn that elusive road victory tonight or will Chicago again prove just how powerful home-ice advantage can be?
1st Period Thoughts: Minnesota looked focused right from the drop of the puck as the line of Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter stole a long Chicago pass in the neutral zone and they’d go on the attack. Less than a minute in Brent Seabrook would trip up Niederreiter giving the Wild the first power play of the game. On the power play, the Wild’s puck movement was atrocious. Slow, indecisive and this made it easy for Chicago to stay in the middle of the ice and force Minnesota to try to shoot through a maze of legs and sticks. The Wild had more success on the power play when the 2nd unit moved out there as Niederreiter set up Mikael Granlund on a give-and-go play where he rang a wrist shot off the right post and out. The Blackhawks would counter attack late in the Wild power play and Michal Handzus‘ wrist shot from the slot was nabbed out of the air by the glove of Ilya Bryzgalov. Minnesota was still dominating the play; as its puck pressure was drawing all kinds of turnovers from the Blackhawks and they’d have another great opportunity moments later as Justin Fontaine found a little space and he’d rip a snap shot from the right faceoff dot that beat Crawford and strike the crossbar and out. The Wild would ease up their pressure a bit and this allowed Chicago to go on the attack and get Minnesota pinned in its own end. Feeling the pressure, Wild defenseman started to chip the puck more often off the glass and boards which led to easy turnovers and Chicago would nearly score on a shot from the point by Seabrook that was redirected by Handzus that was denied by the leg pad save of Bryzgalov. Chicago sensed it could continue to attack and they’d take advantage of the Wild’s slower 4th line and a lazy hooking penalty by Clayton Stoner led to a delayed power play as the Blackhawks pulled their goalie for an extra attacker. Minnesota couldn’t seem to touch the puck as Chicago just moved it around as they set up Brandon Saad at close range that forced Bryzgalov to make a save before Cody McCormick was finally able to touch it up for a whistle. On the power play; Minnesota’s penalty killers did a great job of denying the middle of the ice to Chicago, and with good active sticks they were able to disrupt their attempts to work a backdoor play. The Wild would get the kill and they’d take the initiative and renew their assault on the Chicago end. It started with a faceoff win in the Chicago zone as Niederreiter got off a weak shot that was stopped by Crawford and then he was forced to stop Coyle from close range. Moments after that, a long Jared Spurgeon pass was taken by Erik Haula who turned on the afterburners and flew right by Patrick Kane and he’d wind up and rifle a slap shot on goal that was stopped by Crawford but he’d give up a rebound that Haula followed up and and he’d chip it off the goalie and up into the air where it fluttered back down into the goal. 1-0 Wild. It was a tremendous play by a player whose versatility continues to be a huge asset to the Wild. The silence of the home crowd was deafening and telling; they too were scared of just how confident the Wild were playing right now. Chicago tried to rally back and apart from one little scramble towards the end, they didn’t have a lot of push back as Minnesota was challenging every entry into the Wild zone. As the period ended, you could hear boo’s from the home crowd who were not used to seeing their team dominated in just about every phase of the game. The anxiety level in Chicago is pretty high right now. Expect Chicago to really try to storm out of the gates to start the 2nd. Minnesota must weather the storm. Wild defenseman need to keep using the short passes and avoid using the glass and boards to elude Chicago’s forecheck and not feed into their puck possession game.
2nd Period Thoughts: Chicago was looking hungry to start the 2nd period; taking every opportunity to direct pucks on goal, but when the Wild were not getting into shooting lanes to block shots, Bryzgalov was solid early as he made saves and gave up no rebounds. Cody McCormick and the 4th line would cause Chicago a few problems; as McCormick’s positioning intercepted two passes and he’d waste little time in firing shots on goal and forcing Crawford to make some saves. The Wild were spending most of its time playing defense in its own end, as Chicago started to work the puck deep and force Minnesota to get rid of the puck a bit sooner than it wanted to and turnovers were the result. Peter Regin would race into the Wild zone and draw a hooking call on Brodin as he barreled towards the Wild goal off the rush. It would be a costly penalty. After doing a pretty good job at killing off the first minute of the man advantage the Blackhawks would enter the Wild zone with speed as they set up Kane for a snap shot that hit the leg of Bryan Bickell and the puck would bounce off the ice and over the leg pad of Bryzgalov and in. 1-1 game. Chicago has been 3-for-3 on the power play when Brodin takes a penalty. Minnesota would try to answer back and Zach Parise would start to emerge as an assertive force as he’d direct a few shots on goal. The Wild were content to slow the game down; working the puck deep where Minnesota would work its forecheck as Spurgeon’s slap shot was redirected by Koivu that Crawford was just able to get a leg pad on. A few minutes later, the Blackhawks nearly took the lead as a long dump in by Johnny Oduya seemed to surprise Bryzgalov who was looking for the puck along the boards only to react at the last second to close the 5-hole to steer the puck wide of the goal. Minnesota had to feel fortunate to still be tied after a period where the team sort of got out of its game and allowed Chicago to claw their way back into the game. The Wild were too picky in the offensive zone and they were a bit reckless with the puck; Minnesota must tighten up their game and play assertive. Sitting back and just playing rope-a-dope plays right into Chicago’s hands.
3rd Period Thoughts: The 3rd period started out with both clubs looking to get their offense going as they were trying to generate speed through the neutral zone. Minnesota’s 4th line would cause a little havoc as Kyle Brodziak stole a puck in the neutral zone where he set up Cody McCormick for a chance as Crawford fought off the puck; and then moments after that McCormick had another opportunity that drew a save by the Chicago goalie. The Blackhawks would answer back with its top line as Mikael Granlund got rocked by a big check by Jonathan Toews, where Patrick Sharp swung a shot on goal that was stopped by Bryzgalov and the puck popped into the air where it was partially swatted by Ryan Suter but the puck fell down in the crease before it was tapped home by Toews. On that play Nate Prosser just sort of stood around and watched the whole thing; getting in the way of Suter as he tried to swat away the puck. The Wild tried to rally back as Nino Niederreiter made a nice move 1-on-1 to get around Oduya for a chance that was stonewalled by Crawford. The Blackhawks were content to defend their lead and do their best to disrupt Minnesota’s speed through the neutral zone and the Wild were having trouble adjusting to Chicago’s defensive posture. As Chicago started to sit back the Wild were taking more chances to try to create offense. Minnesota would really try to get some traffic in front of Crawford as they set up their defenseman for blasts from the point as Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella all managed to get off bombs from the perimeter that nearly cashed in. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo would call a timeout with a little over two minutes left to play in regulation. Yeo would choose to pull Bryzgalov for an extra attacker very early ala-Patrick Roy as Minnesota hoped tally the equalizer. Minnesota would nearly cash in off the ensuing draw as a point shot by Scandella that was stopped by Crawford and then pounced upon by Parise and Jason Pominville but as the puck squirted out towards Koivu he just couldn’t reach it. The Wild would have to wait another perilous minute for their next great chance as a long pass would be worked down to Parise who tried to jam it through Crawford as he absorbed the puck as Parise and Granlund crashed the crease to no avail. Because the Wild had spent its timeout; the team was forced to put out a line that included mostly 3rd and 4th liners and the result was predictable. No one seemed to remember that the team was down by a goal and there was little urgency to direct pucks on goal and the Blackhawks were able to kill the rest of the clock and skate away with a 2-1 victory.
Ilya Bryzgalov had one of his best games on the road so far; stopping 26 of 28 in the loss. I thought he made a number of good saves with some traffic near his crease. While he may have been a little out of position that allowed the 1st goal to be scored on him on the power play I felt he played pretty well. Defensively he did not get any help from Jonas Brodin who couldn’t win a battle along the boards to save his life or Nate Prosser who was a pylon on the ice. Prosser needs to be swapped out for Jonathon Blum if Keith Ballard is still unavailable. Minnesota’s defenseman used the glass and boards way too much tonight and that’s why they spent so much time chasing after the puck tonight.
Offensively the Wild’s best line was the 3rd line of Justin Fontaine, Matt Cooke and Erik Haula. They brought speed, creativity and energy to most of their shifts but beyond that the Wild did not get a lot from its top two lines. Minnesota was guilty of trying the extra pass throughout most of the game and that took pressure off Crawford to make saves and more often than not resulted in a turnover than a prime scoring chance. Dany Heatley’s lack of wheels were very apparent and the team could be well-served by having someone faster in the lineup in his place. The team also needs more shots from its 2nd line of Koivu, Coyle and Niederrieter; only Niederreiter seemed interested in shooting the puck tonight.
The Wild missed a big opportunity tonight. You could tell Chicago was very nervous going into this game; from the crowd to the team itself they almost expected to lose tonight. Instead the Wild eased up its pressure from the 1st period and Chicago managed to claw its way back into the game and eventually take the lead. Chicago just breathed a huge sigh of relief. You don’t get a defending Stanley Cup champion doubting itself like that very often. The Wild needed to be their best and in one key area they were a complete failure. Faceoffs, where Minnesota lost 60% of its draws which gave Chicago, a team that thrives on puck possession a huge advantage all game long. Minnesota has to be better if it wants to beat Chicago at home.
~ The Wild’s roster was as follows: Mikko Koivu, Charlie Coyle, Nino Niederreiter, Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, Justin Fontaine, Erik Haula, Matt Cooke, Kyle Brodziak, Cody McCormick, Dany Heatley, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella, Nate Prosser and Clayton Stoner. John Curry backed up Ilya Bryzgalov. Stephane Veilleux, Keith Ballard, Jake Dowell, Mike Rupp, Matt Moulson, Josh Harding, Steven Kampfer and Jonathon Blum were the scratches.
~ The 3 Stars of the Game as selected Chris Kuc by were: 1st Star Jonathan Toews, 2nd Star Corey Crawford, 3rd Star Peter Regin
~ Attendance was 22,016 at United Center.
Wild Prospect Report:
D – Mathew Dumba (Portland, WHL) ~ Portland staved off elimination after trailing 5-3 in the 3rd period to earn a 6-5 victory in overtime. Mathew Dumba did his part to help spark the comeback, tallying two goals in the victory but he was also a disturbing -3 in the game. Dumba has 8 goals, 18 points and is a +20 in 20 playoff games. Game 7 of that series will be tomorrow in Portland.