As the saying goes, “the more things change, the more they stay the same”. That is proving especially true for the Minnesota Wild as they find themselves in a 2-0 series deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks for what is now a third consecutive post season. The last two have not ended well and this one is looks to be equally unpromising.
Sweet home Chicago
The in defeating the Wild each of the last three post seasons, the Blackhawks have enjoyed impressive home success, going 7-0 at the United Center against Minnesota. In those 7 games Chicago has outscored the Wild a combined 31-11.
The Blackhawks have always been a good home team, especially in the playoffs. For the Wild though, the “Madhouse on Madison” has been even more of a house of horrors. Outside of just raw numbers, Minnesota seems to rarely play a good game in Chicago. As if some curse has been laid upon them that is activated upon entry into the United Center, the Wild seems to get out-played and out-willed in that building. That has held true this year with Minnesota, quite frankly, getting dominated for 5 of 6 periods in Hawks/Wild part III.
The Wild have never held the home ice advantage in a series with Chicago so if it has any hope of ever beating the Hawks in the playoffs and lifting the aforementioned curse, that will need to obviously change. Easier said than done.
Teammates have taken the moments Patrick Kane makes a great play and dubbed it “showtime”. A fitting description for one of the leagues most electric playmakers. Patrick Kane has long been a thorn in the Wild’s side, and while shutting him down is about as likely as me winning the lottery tomorrow (wish me luck), limiting his chances to take over the game with his tremendous skill needs to be a point of emphasis for the Wild.
I’m sure head coach Mike Yeo and his staff are well aware of this and I don’t pretend to think they don’t perceive Kane to be a threat, but the fact of the matter is Kane has burned them badly in the playoffs for three years now. Again, Kane is an elite offensive talent and stopping him is next to impossible. At the very least though, he can’t be allowed to roam free around the neutral zone and the Wild’s defensive zone.
Part of what makes Patrick Kane so good is his ability to exploit even the most minute time and space he’s given. He looks like a guy playing pickup hockey against his little brothers pee wee team at times. For Minnesota to have a prayer of winning this series, the entire team must to a better job of limiting time and space for the entire Chicago team, but especially Kane.
Uncharacteristic mistakes have plagued Minnesota in the first two games of this series and not surprisingly, they find themselves down 2-0 to Chicago yet again. Since January, the Wild have been one of the leagues hottest teams and that is largely thanks to strong defensive play from four forward lines and three defensive pairings. The few chances that did get through were mostly low in quality and Devan Dubnyk swallowed up the rest.
When the Wild was winning consistently, it was dominating the neutral zone play and giving its opponents next to no chance to move the puck up ice with speed. In games 1 and 2, the Wild got away from that and it ended with 8 pucks in the back of their net. The speedy Hawks have had no trouble exiting the puck from their own zone and moving it into Minnesota’s end where they’ve had even less resistance in getting numerous chances.
Game 3 is tonight at Xcel Energy Center and Minnesota will need to return to the strong defensive form that has been a trademark of Wild victories since Jacques Lemaire was behind the Minnesota bench. If that doesn’t happen, this game and this series will be over in a hurry.
Key mistakes were made in games 1 and 2 by some of the Wild’s marquee players, but Chicago’s domination thus far has been a team effort for the Wild. Minnesota simply is not a team that can play a run-and-gun style of game and hope to beat Chicago in a seven game series. When they do that, they end up on the wrong end of a 4-1 loss that sees them get outshot, outworked, and outclassed.
Don’t get me wrong, this series is far from over right now, but a loss in game 3 all but ends the Wild’s seemingly promising season. As strange as it sounds, the Wild should feel comfortable down 2-0 in the series. Last post season, the team was down 2-0 against Colorado and Chicago and won both games 3 and 4 to even the series. However, the play we saw from the Wild in game 2 was frighteningly close to what we saw for most of November and December when the team couldn’t find a win with a search light.
The story coming into this series looked wonderful on paper for the Wild. It seemed like Minnesota was a new team and might finally be able to exorcise the demons of the past. The Blackhawks had other plans and they punched the Wild right in the mouth (again), now it’s time for them to respond. The Wild must get back to its game and do so in a hurry or Chicago will have proven that the Wild may be a new team, but the story ends the same.
Nate has been a Minnesota Wild contributor at The Hockey Writers since 2014 and previously spent time covering the University of Minnesota Duluth men’s hockey team. For everything Minnesota Wild related, follow him on Twitter @natebauer.