The Minnesota Wild launched their quest for revenge when the club began its second round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year, the clubs met in the first round where the Hawks defeated the Wild four games to one in the series. Fans in the State of Hockey would like nothing more than to see their beloved Wild avenge last year’s defeat by sending the defending Stanley Cup champions home.
Chicago was an offensive powerhouse last season and this trait has also defined the club this year. Chicago tallied 3.10 goals per game which was the second-best goal output in the NHL during the 2012-2013 season. This past season, the Blackhawks again finished second overall in the NHL in goals scored averaging 3.18 goals per game. In addition, Chicago finished tenth in the league on the power play converting 19.5% of their opportunities.
A major killer for the Wild in last season’s playoff series against Chicago was their power play. Minnesota made an effort to improve the power play this season but it did not fare much better than last year. To get revenge against the Hawks for ending their playoff hopes last season, it is important for Minnesota to cash-in on their power play opportunities as frequently as possible.
History repeated itself in Game One against the Hawks where Minnesota struggled to score with the man advantage. Despite a decent effort by the Wild, the club could not convert on the power play and this played a role in the 5-2 loss in Game One. With all the talent on Chicago’s offense, the Wild need to find a way to maximize their power play chances because the lack of production contributed to Minnesota’s early playoff exit in 2013.
Last Year’s First Round Showdown
Last season, Minnesota’s round one defeat had a lot to do with the squad’s abysmal power play efficiency in the playoffs. The Wild finished the lockout-shortened season with a 17.9% power play efficiency which was the sixteenth-best power play in the NHL.
The regular season numbers were average but the Wild could not even reach these levels in the playoffs. Over the course of the five game series against the Hawks last year, Minnesota did not score a single power play goal. The Wild had seventeen power play opportunities but were the only playoff team with a 0% conversion rate.
Chicago averaged 2.78 goals per game during last year’s Stanley Cup run. The Hawks scored sixty-four goals throughout the playoffs and managed an 11.4% conversion rate on the power play. Minnesota lost four games to Chicago in last year’s playoffs by a score of 2-1 (OT) in Game One, 5-2 in Game Two, 3-0 in Game Four and 5-1 in Game Five. One cannot help but wonder how things may have been different if Minnesota could have mustered up a few power play goals.
Momentum is such a big factor in hockey. Not only is the sport a physical showdown but so much of it is mental. Had the Wild been able to establish their power play in the first game leaving it with a win rather than a loss, it could have completely changed the outcome of the series.
In response to their playoff woes with the man advantage, the Wild made an effort to improve their power play this season. Despite these efforts, the Wild finished the 2013-2014 season with the exact same numbers as last year – a 17.9% efficiency rate and the sixteenth-best power play in the NHL. In the playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche, the power play conversion rate dropped to 12.5%. Minnesota will need to boost its numbers against Chicago in order to counteract the Hawks’ high-powered offense.
What We Learned from Game One
Despite the 5-2 loss, there was a lot of promise in Game One. The Wild out-shot Chicago thirty-two to twenty-two and played a heck of a physical game. Defenseman Clayton Stoner set the tone with some huge hits and this physicality was infectious. The Wild out-hit the Hawks thirty-seven to twenty-four and sacrificed their bodies blocking nineteen shots compared to ten by Chicago.
While there were many facets in Game One to consider, a key difference in this game between the two clubs, much like last year’s series, was the power play. Defenseman Jonas Brodin took a double minor for high sticking in the first period and then took another high sticking penalty halfway through the second period. Chicago converted on both of these power play opportunities going 2/4 on the night with the man advantage.
Meanwhile, despite a decent effort by the Wild, the club simply could not find a way to beat Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford while on the power play. Crawford made some key saves throughout the game where he stopped thirty of thirty-two shots. Minnesota played a solid first period and then began to put pressure on Chicago during the second. The final score of 5-2 suggests more of a one-sided game but in fact the clubs played a tight game for most of regulation.
Much like last season, the difference in power play conversions played a huge role in the outcome of the game. Had the Wild been able to convert just one of their three opportunities, the momentum which was already with the Wild for a good portion of the game would have intensified and possibly changed the outcome.
While the result of Game One was disappointing to fans in the State of Hockey, there was a lot to be excited about with regards to the effort and intensity that the Wild showed throughout the game. In a game that hinges upon capitalizing on opponent mistakes, the power play can be such a huge factor in hockey that it sometimes is the difference between victory and defeat.
In last year’s showdown between the Wild and the Blackhawks, Minnesota failed to score a power play goal which weighed heavily on the outcome of the series. It is imperative that Mike Yeo and his staff find a way for his club to beat Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford on the power play to slant momentum in favor of the Wild.
The Wild will also need to do a better job of containing Patrick Kane. Kane is an extremely gifted forward and he demonstrated his skill set with two outstanding goals against the Wild in Game One. The combination of an improved power play and a stronger defensive strategy against Patrick Kane are both necessary for a better outcome in Game Two. However, despite the loss, the Wild put up a good effort in Game One and it is something the club can build upon as the club prepares for its next battle in Chicago on Sunday afternoon.