How the Blackhawks and Wild Match Up
We are officially in the thick of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs as we settle into the second round. In a rematch of last year’s opening-round series, the Wild will be looking to upset the defending-champion Blackhawks. For spoils, the winner will earn a chance to battle either the Kings or Ducks in the Western Conference finals. Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, let’s take a look at how Chicago and Minnesota stack up against one another.
A Look at the First Round
Obviously, the first round ended up the way the Blackhawks and Wild wanted it to. But what do those triumphs say about each team respectively? For Chicago, an impressive series against a very good St. Louis Blues team has erased any doubts of a Stanley Cup hangover in these playoffs. After dropping the first two games, the Blackhawks showed off attacking talent and playoff experience to win four straight.
For the Wild, it took seven games to defeat the Avalanche—and overtime in game seven to boot. Like the Blackhawks, the Wild lost the first two games of the series before coming to life. They also fought off an elimination game to take the series to seven games, where they showed plenty of heart.
What to Keep an Eye On
As in every playoff series, there are always a few aspects of a matchup that end up deciding who moves on. In the case of this series, the Goalie situation for the Wild is the first thing that jumps out at me. Ilya Bryzgalov started the first round in net, but was replaced by Darcy Kuemper in game three. Kuemper performed well, but an injury in game seven took him off the ice. For the Wild, an uncertain goalie situation could prove to be poisonous, leaving fans to hope head coach Mike Yeo has a smoke evacuation system in the form of a plan for his net-minders.
The other major point of interest is the goal scorers for each squad. Can they keep up their good form? For Chicago, Patrick Kane was a +6 against the Blues in the opening round and Jonathan Toews scored critical goals, netting three game-winners in round one. For Minnesota, rookie Charlie Coyle will have to continue to find the net if the Wild will move on after scoring three times against the Avalanche. And the formidable Zach Parise, who put up 10 points in round one, will hope to keep up his tremendous play.
Who Has the Edge?
While we can look at who has the advantage in each area of this playoff series, everything in the past no longer matters once the players hit the ice. The heart shown by the Wild in the first round was impressive, but the play of Chicago left very little to be desired. Regarding the goalie, the Wild’s uncertainty pushes the advantage over to Chicago and Corey Crawford. On offense, the Blackhawks get the slight edge with Toews and Kane. On D, I would say the teams are comparatively even, but Chicago’s penalty kill, at 93.1 percent, is slightly better than Minnesota’s 88 percent.
In the end, Chicago’s team is better on paper and SHOULD win, but we all know what heart and desire can do for a team like the Wild. Once the puck hits the ice, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
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