Western Conference Playoffs Round 2 vs. Minnesota: Game 1

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Tweezing is a necessary part of this process. There are some rogue hairs that grow upwards and tickle my nose, so those have to go. I ate spaghetti for dinner last night and the leftovers for lunch today, what a mess. The good thing is, Round 2 starts tonight, so I trimmed the messy mustache part around my lips. While I was at it, I cleaned up the very bottom of my beard to make myself look a little less neckbeardy and give the appearance of a jawline. This is just in case any of my superiors disapprove of the way I look at work. Although, it won’t matter in a couple more weeks when I get really beardy.

I may only have anecdotal evidence, but it seems like the Blackhawks never play to their full potential in the 1st Round of the playoffs. Think about the results from the last five postseasons:

  • 2010: Nashville- Needed a miracle in Game 5 and a fluky Game 6 to advance.
  • 2011: Vancouver- Got down 3-0 in the series and almost came all the way back before losing in OT of Game 7.
  • 2012: Phoenix- 5 of 6 games went to OT, Marian Hossa was nearly killed, Jonathan Toews was still concussed himself, and Corey Crawford played poorly.
  • 2013: Minnesota- Pawed at an inexperienced team down to it’s 3rd goalie before putting it away in 5 games.
  • 2014: St. Louis- Dropped the first 2 games on the road in OT before finally turning it on to win 4 straight.
  • 2015: Nashville- Mostly even, looked like world beaters at times, tire fire the rest of the time.

That’s a pretty established track record of underwhelming 1st Round performances. It’s also why I think the Blackhawks will get through the 2nd Round. The Hawks have yet to consistently raise their game to a championship level. We saw it for the last 50 miinutes of Game 6 vs. Nashville. Hopefully the Hawks keep it in top gear, otherwise this is a Minnesota team, and city, that is hungry for vengeance for two straight playoff defeats.

The Minnesota Wild looked hopeless halfway through the season. They got off to an 18-19-5 start, were 12th in the Western Conference, and were thisclose to firing their head coach, Mike Yeo. Enter goalie Devan Dubnyk. The Wild acquired Dubnyk via a trade with Arizona and suddenly turned into the hottest team in the NHL, going 27-9-2 in games he started, which was almost every game that they have played since. Funny thing about Dubnyk, he wasn’t very good in several stops with other teams in the NHL. He seems to have found the magic with Minnesota though, putting up stats that would seem unsustainable from a journeyman goalie, leading them to the 1st Wild Card spot in the conference, and a 1st Round defeat of the Central Division champion Blues (Ha! Go sit in your jorts and cry, St. Louis!).

Part of the reason for Dubnyk’s success is the defensive system the Wild uses to cut off their opponent’s attack in the neutral zone. They’re like the Chuck Liddell of hockey teams. They’ll sit back, try to force turnovers from the blue line out, and counter attack. Controlled zone entries will probably be hard to come by for the Blackhawks. The Wild want a chip-and-chase kind of game. If the Hawks can carry the puck clean into the offensive zone and start the cycle game, then their possession game can start to wear down Minnesota’s defense. I think that’s the reason Teuvo Teravainen and his dragons are getting a chance to start Game 1. Teuvo is better at zone entries than Kris Versteeg. Versteeg also supposedly has an injury, so we’ll see what the kid’s got.

The Wild’s defense is led by stud Ryan Suter. Just like Duncan Keith, he’ll be on the ice for 50% of this series. They are pretty decent 1-5 and will try to lull the Blackhawks to sleep with that neutral zone trap. They’ll try to spring a speedy forward corps led by Zach Parise. Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, and Mikael Granlund can all fly. That playoff series last season was closer than the 4-2 outcome because the Wild play tough defense and can score in an instant.

Ultimately the result of this series will depend on whether or not the Blackhawks can get their defensive game tightened up enough to fend off the speed of the Wild. The goalie carousel by Coach Q was probably more to fire his team up then it was playing the hot hand. If the Hawks start playing multi-puck on defense like they did on three separate occasions during Round 1 (1st period Game 1, 3rd period Game 2, 1st period Game 6), then it won’t matter who is playing goalie. The Hawks still have the better overall team (Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Sharp). Bryan Bickell also has a reputation as a Wild killer, so it’s time for Octo-Bickell to show up. They just need to be better 4 of the next 7 games to advance. Fortunately, the Hawks have home ice advantage. Hawks in 7. LET’S GO HAWKS!!!

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