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Blackhawks fail to find the net in 4-2 loss as Wild even series

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Updated: May 10, 2014 12:07AM

ST. PAUL, Minn. — It’d be easy to look at the scoresheet from Friday night, circle the “20” in the shots column, and assume that explains the Blackhawks’ disheartening 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of their second-round series.

But the Hawks’ problems — in this game and now in this series — went far deeper than that.

It’s true, the Hawks were unable to get the puck on net to take advantage of a shaky Ilya Bryzgalov in the early going, eschewing simple and direct plays for fancy stickhandling and slick drop-passes that went nowhere. But the Hawks also were unable to simply hold on to the puck — typically reliable defensemen such as Duncan Keith and Michal Rozsival coughing it up and leading to odd-man rushes the other way. They lost puck battles in the corners. They gave up on plays halfway up the ice. They didn’t give Corey Crawford much help, and Crawford didn’t bail them out nearly enough.

A lot of things went wrong in Game 4. But Jonathan Toews said it all came down to the same thing.

“It’s reflecting our intensity,” the Hawks captain said. “They worked for their chances, they worked for everything they got. We’ve got to do the same. I don’t really know how to explain it, we’ve got to be better.”

The game was another reminder that this isn’t the same Wild team the Hawks beat in five games last spring. The Wild are now 5-0 at home in the playoffs, bringing the high-speed, high-skill Avalanche and Hawks down to their level. In the first four games of this series, the Hawks have had just 22, 22, 19 and 20 shots on goal — far below their regular-season average of 33.1 per game, third in the NHL.

“I looked up at the clock in the second period there,” Keith said. “We had nine shots.”

Credit the Wild as much as you blame the Hawks. Minnesota came out flying, with Matt Cooke — freed from a seven-game suspension — wreaking havoc, smearing Keith on his first shift and forcing a Nick Leddy turnover with a hit on his second shift. Then, seven minutes into the game, he forced a Rozsival turnover that led to a Justin Fontaine goal and a 1-0 lead.

The Hawks managed to tie it with 38.2 seconds left when Patrick Sharp flung the puck on net — a good strategy in this one — and beat Bryzgalov between the legs. It was a soft goal and a big break for the Hawks, who had just four shots in the period.

But the Wild didn’t wilt. Jason Pominville banked the puck off Crawford’s right skate from behind the net at 3:51 of the second period to give the Wild a 2-1 lead. Michal Handzus tied it less than three minutes later, deflecting a Brent Seabrook shot from the point — again, throw the puck on net, get some traffic in front, see what happens.

But the Wild again responded, as Nino Niederreiter beat Crawford from the left circle 44 seconds later to make it 3-2 Minnesota.

Jared Spurgeon then roofed a power-play goal 3:47 into the third period with Rozsival in the box for closing his hand on the puck — a fitting capper to a game he’ll want to forget — to seal a potential series-changing win for the Wild.

“It’s playoff hockey,” Toews said. “It’s not supposed to be easy. There are going to be some moments where your stomach drops and you’re not feeling like everything’s going your way — that’s the way it goes. You’ve got to find a way to battle through that and create something out of nothing.”

They’d better do it in Chicago. Because in St. Paul, all they’ve created is the nothing.


Twitter: @marklazerus

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