By Brad Vandenberk
Just as the bikini girl puts down the “round 2” sign, you can’t help but ponder, is this the same Minnesota Wild team the Hawks faced last year in the first round? The answer is simple. No. This Wild team comes slightly different with some glaring similarities.
Remember during the warm ups in game one last season when Niklas Backstrom took a puck off the knee and was helped off the ice deeming him finished for the series? In came Josh Harding, who played real well before hurting himself as well, and then came in Darcy Kemper to finish the series off in a losing cause as Minnesota were eliminated 4-1. Well not a lot has changed with the Wild’s goaltending carousel.
Minnesota’s hope this series seems to rest on Ilya Bryzgalov’s universe. He was a late pick up at the trade deadline and now gets to prove his worth. The Wild also picked up highly touted free agent Matt Moulson at the deadline, adding to the exact same squad that hit the ice last time these teams met in a playoff round. Now name at least one defenseman on Minnesota? Ryan Suter, that was easy. Get used to this name as he will see 25+ minutes of ice in every game this entire series matching up against the Hawke top players.
The difference between these two teams is again very simple, depth. The Hawks have 4 lines that can score where the Wild have in and around 2. Matt Cooke is eligible to return to the series in game 4 after his kneeing incident costing him a seven game suspension.
Chicago finished their first round match up against a very difficult St Louis team on Sunday. No one in this division will be a tougher challenge. But, we cannot take the Wild lightly. The Hawks have had almost a week to rest and have all players healthy and accounted for. Minnesota just completed their game seven overtime game less than 48 hours ago. The silver lining in all this is that the Hawks being the 3 seed will obtain home ice advantage.
Corey Crawford was in net for the home team and there was one game time scratch seeing Joakim Nordstrom in again and Kris Versteeg not dressing. Ben Smith centered Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane. The hope here was to give the Wild’s D men absolute fits in the offensive zone. Jonathan Toews did have the day off from practice on Thursday suffering from a cold. Have no fear Captain Clutch played in game 1.
The Hawks opened the game looking rather sluggish. The Wild had some early scoring attempts when Mikael Granlund and Stephane Veilleux try to beat Crawford. Andrew Shaw takes the first penalty of the game just past the 3 minute mark. He finishes his check a little too late on Mikko Koivu and gets called for interference in behind the play. Dany Heatley tips one wide and Jason Pominville swings and misses a cross ice pass and the Hawks continue their successful penalty kill. The Hawks flip their switch like they so often do. Brandon Saad plays with a puck in the offensive zone dishing off to who he pleases. Clayton Stoner sends Shaw crashing to the boards. The tough winger heads to the dressing room with a bit of a pirates limp. Ben Smith finds himself all alone in front of Bryzgalov but can’t slip one through. At the 6:51 mark of the period Jonas Brodin gets his stick up in Hossa’s grill and draws blood which means here comes a 4 minute power play for the Hawks first of the game. With 20 seconds left on the first man advantage, Brent Seabrook sends a shot on net and Bryan Bickell tips one home igniting the UC and allowing the Hawks to remain on the power play. Nick Leddy and Marian Hossa throws pucks at Bryzgalov but the score remains 1-0. Brandon Bollig goes to the net hard and tips a, what seems to be a loose puck. The refs go to the video review and it turns out to be a no goal. Just before the period ends, Seabrook lets a puck sneak outside the blue line and the whistle goes. Heatley throws a late hit on Seabs who wasn’t too happy. The period ends with the Hawks leading the Wild 13-8 in shots.
The Hawks spill on the ice to open the second period and Shaw is nowhere to be found. It was later announced that he would not return to the game suffering from a lower body injury. The Wild sway momentum in their favour. Zach Parise sends a shot on net and Granlund tips it past Crawford and right off the post. Crawford continues to play with confidence coming out to the top of his crease and seeing the puck, reaching out gloving pucks down. Then the Hawks get called for the good old Too Many Men penalty. The Hawks kill another penalty with the help of Crawford on the back end. Brodin gets called for high stick number 2. Saad takes a puck hard to the net and finds a wide open Hossa who taps it past Bryzgalov 2-0. Leddy gets quite stupid when he loses a puck to Heatley and turns around and elbows Heater taking the walk of shame to the box. Just like the previous penalties the Hawks kill another one. Stoner again continues his rough play hammering Nordstrom into the boards. Bollig takes exception to this trying to fight the defensemen. Stoner doesn’t fall for the extracurricular and skates away. Johnny Oduya gets hit hard and the Wild are beginning to reflect the Blues. Just as the period ends its Minnesota’s turn to miscount and put too many men on the ice. The period ends with the Hawks only registering 3 shots on net and now being outshot 25-16.
The power play to open the final period quickly expired and the Hawks found themselves on the ropes hanging on to a 2 goal lead. Stoner throws a shot on net and it trickles through Crawford. Oduya is there to knock it off the goal line but it finds its way in the net giving the Wild life 2-1. Bryzers Bears in the crowd love it. Just before the half point of the period Kyle Brodziak finds himself wide open in the slot and taps a puck past Crawford tying the game at 2 and silencing the crowd. It didn’t take long for the crowd to come to their feet. Kane grabs a puck and takes it over the blue line. He fakes a pass to Sharp and carries the puck on his backhand toward Bryzgalov. He finds the tiniest of short side space and fits the puck through with an incredible goal giving the Hawks a 3-2 lead with 11:38 left. Sharp and Kane break in once again 2 on 1 and Sharp feeds Kane but Bryzer stacks the pads and makes an exceptional save. The line of Sharp, Smith and Kane were at it again. The 3 of them keep the puck in the zone playing a game of keep away from the Wild. Sharp takes a point shot and Smith tips it to a wide open Kane who has a tap in for his 2nd of the game and his playoff leading 6th goal. To add a cherry on top, the Wild pull their goalie with 2:41 left and Bickell scores his 2nd of the night. The game ends and the Hawks take a 1-0 lead in the series.
Bickell Toews Hossa Keith Seabrook
Sharp Smith Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Saad Kruger Shaw Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Handzus Nordstrom
-Hawks were outshot 32-22
-Hawks go 2/4 on the power play with the Wild going 0/3
-Toews goes 16/24 in the faceoff dot, Smith 6/11, Kruger 5/11, Handzus 9/16
-Keith led all Hawks in TOI with 24:42, Seabrook was next up 21:29.
-Hawks now await word on Shaw’s injury and for how long he may be out for.
-Game 2 will be at 2pm on Sunday afternoon at the UC.