The starts could not have been more different. Early in Game 1, the Minnesota Wild stymied the Blackhawks with their trap defense and complete elimination of the neutral zone. As a result, the frustrated Hawks forced plays, made far too many extra passes, and didn't find their stride until the end of the 1st period.
Last night, the only similarities were the uniforms on the players.
The Blackhawks had talked about it constantly since Tuesday night. Better start, pucks on net, traffic in front. Check, check, check. The Hawks put 17 1st period shots on Wild goalie Josh Harding. When the final horn sounded, the scoreboard read 5-2, and the Hawks had peppered Harding with 48 shots.
Michael Frolik scored the first two Hawks goals, both of them off of blocked shots. Patrick Sharp scored the next two, one off a sweet backhand on the side of the net, and the other after Patrick Kane delivered a video game caliber blind pass. Sharp will never score an easier goal in his career. Bryan Bickell added the empty netter, and the celebration was on.
OBSERVATIONS AND THOUGHTS AND STUFF
I think we can close the book on the theory of Corey Crawford being a playoff bust. The two Minnesota goals were scored off a partial breakaway by Devin Setoguchi and a screened shot by Marco Scandella. Aside from that, Crawford was outstanding. His rebound control and positioning have been excellent. Look no further than the sequence in the 2nd period during Minnesota's power play. Crawford made 5-7 point blank saves on Zach Parise while face down on the ice. Parise hacked and whacked, but couldn't get the puck in the net. Crawford has looked poised and confident.
Joel Quenneville's balance of minutes has been very impressive. While the Wild were forced to play defenseman Ryan Suter 41 minutes in Game 1, Quenneville has made the most out of his deep defensive corps. Game 1's ice time leader was Michal Rozsival, who played 27:11. Last night, Duncan Keith's 21:27 led all defenseman in Game 2, but none of the others played less than 18 minutes. Quenneville knows, while he'll never admit it, that the Hawks can and will dispatch the Wild in short order. Saving some defensive legs for the later rounds is the right thing to do.
Speaking of the next round, I don't want to see David Bolland return to the lineup until the semifinals begin. Unlike other Hawks fans, I haven't bailed on Bolland because of a couple bad months of injuries and offensive struggles. I remember 2010. I remember Joe Thornton, the Sedin Twins, and myriad other opposing forwards thrown completely off their game by Bolland's defense and "antics". He's a playoff difference maker, but he's not needed in this series. Let him get as healthy as possible, and insert him into the lineup next round...and when you do, put him on the 3rd or 4th line.
The contract battle between Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell has been fascinating to watch. Both forwards are due contracts this summer, as they are both unrestricted free agents. With the salary cap dropping $6 million next season, one of these two likely won't be back. Bickell has scored two goals in this series, while Stalberg's speed has created chance after chance. So who has the lead? At the point, I have to give it to Bickell. The Hawks have speed in droves, but lack some of the size and thump that Bickell brings. It's also safe to assume that Bickell could be signed for less money than Stalberg would command. I'd hate to lose either, but as of Game 2, I think Bickell has a slight lead.
Is anyone else having trouble hating the Wild? This series was supposed to launch a red hot rivalry for new division rivals. Nope. The Madhouse on Madison has been anything but mad through two games, and Minnesota haven't done anything to make themselves unlikable. They show up, lose, and go home. I can barely recall a post whistle scrum of any substance. That's fine. The rivalry development can wait.
Hawks fans had to find themselves conflicted as now San Jose Shark Raffi Torres scored the overtime winner against the Vancouver Canucks. Which form of evil do you cheer for? I found myself grinning as Torres' puck got behind Roberto Luongo, so I guess my mind is made up.
Thanks for reading. If you are so inclined, I will be on the air Sunday after Game 3 wraps up. Tune in to 670 AM or 670thescore.com as soon as the game ends.
Filed under: Blackhawks, bryan bickell, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Sports, Corey Crawford, dave bolland, duncan keith, goaltending, hockey, jay zawaski, johnny oduya, jonathan toews, minnesota wild, NHL, nick leddy, Patrick Kane, patrick sharp, raffi torres, roberto luongo, sports, video games, viktor stalberg, wscr, zach parise