The 3 keys to the Hawks vs. Wild playoff matchup
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org April 30, 2013 11:38AM
Jason Pominville, Patrick Sharp
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Updated: June 1, 2013 6:35AM
When forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter — two of the top free agents on the market — chose the Minnesota Wild over the Blackhawks (and others) last offseason, it looked as though the Wild was on the verge of becoming a Stanley Cup contender and the Hawks would be stuck in limbo, having done nothing to improve upon two consecutive first-round playoff exits.
So much for that.
As the Hawks and Wild prepare for Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals Tuesday, the Hawks are the top seed and heavy favorite, while the free-falling Wild had to wait until the last game of the regular season to squeak into the playoffs. The Wild certainly is no pushover, but the Hawks have the edge in every category, from forwards to defensemen to goaltending to coaching (Tuesday will be Joel Quenneville’s 140th career playoff game as a coach; it’ll be Wild coach Mike Yeo’s first).
With that in mind, here are three X-factors (other than
injuries, the perpetual X-factor) that might trip up the Hawks.
Ryan Suter and
Noteworthy: Suter has been everything the Wild wanted, a top candidate for the Norris Trophy after posting four goals and 28 assists. He has formed an elite pairing with dark-horse Calder Trophy candidate Jonas Brodin. But even though Suter leads the league in ice time with 27 minutes, 16 seconds per game, he can’t be on the ice all the time. The Wild will have to pick its poison.
Quoteworthy: ‘‘That’s the good thing about our team,’’ Hawks winger Patrick Kane said. ‘‘If Suter wants to play against my line, then obviously it’s
going to free up some space for [Jona-
than Toews’ line] or the other way around. . . . The last time we played him, he played over 30 minutes. He’s going to be out there a lot. We’ll just try to wear him down throughout the series, and hopefully he can get tired out.’’
Noteworthy: Despite a roster loaded with elite scorers, the Hawks have only five power-play goals in their last 40 chances, dating to March 25. Four of those goals came on back-to-back nights against the Predators and Coyotes, snapping a nine-game drought, and it appeared all was well. But the unit has struggled again since. Considering how tight playoff games tend to be and how two of their three games against the Wild this season were one-goal games, the Hawks can’t afford to squander too many opportunities.
Quoteworthy: ‘‘We’ve had some good stretches our on power play and the real rough stretch there,’’ Quenne-
ville said. ‘‘It felt like we came out of it toward the end of the season. We just want to make sure the guys out there know: be comfortable, be confident, trust your instinct. We don’t have to be fancy when we’re out there. We want to make sure we keep the momentum in games, knowing special teams really do have an influence on the games.’’
Let’s get physical
Noteworthy: If there’s a blueprint for beating the Hawks, it’s to take the body early and often. Physical teams, such as the Blues, Kings and Ducks, and teams that clog the ice and prevent the Hawks from carrying the puck into the offensive zone with speed — forcing chip-ins and dump-ins instead — have given them the most trouble. The Wild isn’t exactly built to play that style — like the Hawks, it’s more interested in puck-possession and offensive cycling — but it has shown a physical edge when necessary. And unless it expects goalie Niklas Backstrom to do all the work (something he’s capable of when he’s on his game), the Wild will need to do it again in this series.
Quoteworthy: ‘‘It’s something we’ve dealt with throughout the year, and in the playoffs I think it’s going to be magnified a little more,’’ Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘Our job is always to play our game, and that’s
using our speed and our skill and trying to make plays with the puck and then hang on to the puck. We don’t want to change our game. That’s going to be one of the biggest things — sticking with our game plan and what makes us successful.’’
The Wild, which scored two goals or fewer in 10 of 14 games in April, just doesn’t have the offensive firepower to keep up with the Hawks, nor the physicality and depth to slow them down during the course of a seven-game series. Hawks in 4.