The opposing goaltender never bothered the Blackhawks when it was a red-hot Jonathan Quick or Tuukka Rask. It’s not going to be a big issue when it’s Darcy Kuemper or Ilya Bryzgalov. Or Josh Harding, for that matter. The Hawks assume they’re facing Ken Dryden in his prime and adjust accordingly.
The Minnesota Wild headed into their second-round series with the Hawks with a ton of momentum but one significant hitch — a revolving door in goal. Bryzgalov, who started in the Wild’s 5-2 loss to the Hawks in Game 1 on Friday at the United Center, is their fourth goaltender this season. He replaced the injured Kuemper, who had replaced Harding, who has been out since Dec. 31 because of complications with multiple sclerosis. Harding had replaced opening-game starter Niklas Backstrom, who’s out for the season.
Bryzgalov, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on March 4, was thrust into the starter’s role when Kuemper suffered an upper-body injury in the third period of Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche. Kuemper is day-to-day, according to Wild coach Mike Yeo, but was not with the team in Chicago on Friday.
Though he allowed four goals, the Wild were not blaming their goaltender. None of the four goals the Hawks scored against Bryzgalov — including Patrick Kane’s spectacular backhanded goal that broke a 2-2 tie in the third period — was a goaltending blunder.
“I’ve got no problem with the way Bryzgalov played,” Yeo said. “This is a talented team — a team that can capitalize. They don’t need 30 opportunities to put five in the net.”
Bryzgalov stopped 17 of 21 shots.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing a better job limiting opportunities,” Yeo said. “It’s tough when you’re giving up backdoor plays and plays right in front of your net.”
Bryzgalov was shaky in the early going in Game 1 but averted disaster. He failed to corral the puck twice in the first period and nearly was burned when Brandon Bollig knocked the puck into the net off a scramble in front of him. But upon review, it was ruled that play had stopped, and no goal was awarded.
“I thought he did great,” Wild defenseman Clayton Stoner said. “You don’t know how it’s going to go. I thought he was one of our best players. He was very confident in the net. They had a couple of chances there where he came out and challenged and forced them to go behind the net. That showed confidence. If he keeps playing like that, we’ll be fine.”
The wild card in the Wild’s goaltending scenario is Harding, who’s practicing with the team but not expected to play.
“[It’s] an extreme long shot to think he’ll have a chance to play in this series,” Yeo said.
It doesn’t make a difference to the Hawks.
“We didn’t see Ryan Miller [of the St. Louis Blues] a lot, either, and we were able to score some goals against him,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “Bryzgalov is a good goalie. We’re going to have to bear down when we get around the net and do the things that make us successful.”