Series Recap: Blackhawks Versus Wild

As the regular season has come to an end, Last Word On Sports analyzes every playoff series. In the first installment, we take a look at the matchups in five categories: Offense, defense, goaltending, coaching and special teams. We also run down the players to look out for and give our final assessment on how the series will pan out. In the second portion, we will analyze what went down in the series, how the matchups led to the outcome and cover all important storylines.

The Minnesota Wild had taken down the St. Louis Blues in 6 games while the Chicago Blackhawks did the same with the Nashville Predators as these two Central Division rivals were set to face off in the postseason for the third straight year. Devan Dubnyk was the MVP for Minnesota in his first ever playoff series, but how would he fare against a high-powered Blackhawks offense which boasted names such as Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews? Would Corey Crawford return to his impressive regular season form after being pulled for Scott Darling twice in the first round?

Both of these questions would be answered, and it would shockingly only take four games to do so.

The Series: Blackhawks Versus Wild

Game 1: It took Brandon Saad 75 seconds to score the first goal of the series as the Blackhawks took control of the overall pace of Game 1 early and often. After 60 minutes, the United Center was up for grabs as the Hawks took a 3-0 lead into the locker room. Mike Yeo’s club in Minnesota proved that no lead is safe in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and responded with three goals in the first ten minutes of the second period, tying the contest. With 59 seconds remaining in the second, Teuvo Teravainen threw a puck from the far sideboards and beat Dubnyk above the glove. It was the 20-year-old Finnish forward’s first NHL postseason tally, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Wild were unable to capitalize on two power plays in the third period with Chicago clinging to a 4-3 lead, finding themselves at a 1-0 disadvantage in the series.

Game 2:  After the feeling-out process of these two teams was sorted out in Game 1, the first period was left scoreless in Game 2. But before it was all said and done, however, Chicago’s biggest and brightest superstars made their presence known. Captain Jonathan Toews opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal off of a Ryan Suter turnover twelve minutes into the second. Another last minute goal for the Hawks came off the hot stick of Patrick Kane, who buried his fourth goal of the postseason with 20 seconds left before the second set of 20 minutes concluded. #88 was sent in on a partial breakaway off a terrific Duncan Keith stretch pass and blistered one past the blocker of Dubnyk. Matthew Dumba cut the lead in half early into the third, but Patrick Sharp caught the Wild on a turnover in the neutral zone and regained the two-goal lead for the Hawks. Kane’s nifty empty-netter put the game out of reach for good, putting Chicago in a 4-1 cushion. The Blackhawks had taken the first two games of this series heading into the Xcel Energy Center, a building which boasted some of the most hockey-crazed fans in the United States.

Game 3: While a goalie controversy had formed due to Corey Crawford and Scott Darling’s inconsistent outings in the first round against the Nashville Predators, Game 3 was Crawford’s time to set the record straight as to who would be starting in between the pipes for the Hawks from here on out. The 30-year-old netminder arguably stole the game for Chicago, making 30 saves for his fourth career postseason shutout, just two behind Tony Esposito for the franchise lead. His performance was one met with widespread support, including some high praise from the Wild’s bench boss.

 “Crawford, he’s a star against us,” Yeo said. “He’s (Martin) Brodeur, he’s (Patrick) Roy. He’s everybody. We’ve got to find a way to solve that.”

Patrick Kane’s goal-scoring streak continued with his lone marker 14:06 into the first period. Sharp centered the puck to Andrew Shaw who funneled the puck towards Kane whose quick release sent the puck through Dubnyk’s five-hole. It ended up being game-winner for the Hawks, giving them a commanding 3-0 series lead. The Minnesota Wild now had their backs to the wall in their own arena, facing elimination.

Game 4: Since head coach Joel Quenneville was hired in 2008, the Blackhawks had amassed a record of 13-4 in possible series-clinching games. This wasn’t just your ordinary series-clinching game, though. Brent Seabrook’s slapshot re-directed off of Marco Scandella’s leg and went underneath the bar to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead in the first period. Shaw’s second period power play goal gave Chicago a two goal lead in Game 4, which silenced the usually ecstatic Xcel Energy Center in a heartbeat. Erik Haula gave the Wild team and fans life just over three minutes later, cutting the deficit to one. With the third period dwindling down to the final seven minutes, Kane beat Dubnyk short side for his fifth goal of the series, providing some well-needed breathing room for the visitors. At the time, the entire Minnesota Wild team had five goals in the series. Marian Hossa threw the puck into an open net with 3:07 left in the game for his first goal in 22 postseason games; it was now 4-1 Chicago.

Then the fun started.

Jared Spurgeon and Nino Niederreiter scored goals for Minnesota 51 seconds apart with Dubnyk pulled for the extra attacker, but it was too little, too late for the Wild. The final horn sounded, the green light went on, and the Blackhawks were victorious by a score of 4-3 in Game 4. Make that 14-4 in series-clinching games for Chicago under Coach Q.

Minnesota never led for a single second throughout the entire series.

The Chicago Blackhawks are now headed to their third straight Western Conference Final appearance and their fifth appearance in the last seven seasons. They will face either the Anaheim Ducks or the Calgary Flames, who play Game 4 of their series Friday night with Anaheim currently holding a 2-1 series lead.

Something to note from the Blackhawks Game 4 win was that defenseman Michal Rozsival left the game in the second period after his left leg buckled underneath him while defending Thomas Vanek. The only update from Quenneville was that it “doesn’t look good.”

Series Storylines:

Wild Superstars Tamed

Ryan Suter said it best when describing the performance of his team’s top players in this series: “We have to be better…we just couldn’t score goals.” Zach Parise added: “We didn’t do nearly enough. Just disappointing.” Suter finished with only three points and a minus-8 rating in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, while Parise had zero points in the final three games of the series with a minus-3 rating after adding a goal and an assist in Game 1. Thomas Vanek was on the ice for four Chicago goals in Game 2, and he failed to score a single goal in 10 postseason contests. Dubnyk had a less than .900 save percentage in two of the four games, and wasn’t as dominant when his team relied on him the most like he had been in the opening series against St. Louis.

Postseason Prosperity for Kane

Patrick Kane wasn’t even supposed to be playing in the first two rounds of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, according to his initial diagnosis after he fractured his clavicle on February 25th of this year. Not only did he suit up for Chicago ahead of schedule, but Kane was the absolute stone-cold killer the Hawks needed in this series to put away Minnesota as quickly as they did. The Buffalo, NY native has seven goals and twelve points already this postseason, including five goals in four games against the Wild. A simply astonishing stat involving “Showtime” himself: he’s registered 103 points in the 103 NHL playoffs games he’s appeared in.

When asked about why his team is able to come together about the right time, Kane had a simple, yet humble response.

“It shows we like playing this time of year. Kane said. We’re excited about being in playoffs and being in a position to win every game. That’s the biggest thing with this team…by no means are we ever satisfied.”