If Blackhawks can avoid Wild traps, series should offer no reason for worry

Written By BY Rick Morrissey rmorrissey@suntimes.com | @MorrisseyCST Posted: 05/04/2014, 02:39am
Array Hawks goalie Corey Crawford fends off a shot from the Wild’s Zach Parise with a little help from defenseman Nick Leddy. | Getty Images

The Minnesota Wild brought their ‘‘A’’ game to the United Center on Friday and still lost 5-2 to the Blackhawks.

Thanks for coming, Wild men. Don’t forget to pick up your lovely parting gifts.

I say that for purely selfish reasons. The Wild want to muck it up, to slow the game down, to bring the Hawks down to their level and to make onlookers want to take up solitaire for excitement’s sake.

In the name of hockey aesthetics, this must be stopped.

If the Wild win the series, boring wins. Graduation speeches win. Mime performances win. Do you understand the gravity of the situation?

The only team that can stop the Hawks from winning three more games in this series is theirs. The challenge will be avoiding the very real hazard of playing their opponent’s game.

Again, the Wild played a good game, putting all sorts of pressure on Hawks goalie Corey Crawford. And lost.

The grind-it-out style isn’t going to work against the Hawks. The problem for the Wild is that there is no other option. Their players can’t skate with the Hawks, so they have to clutch and grab and hang on.

But there is nothing they can do against someone such as Patrick Kane, whose talent and flair look like DayGlo to the Wild’s beige. Only a few players on the planet even would think of attempting his third-period game-winner. He took the puck on his backhand from the blue line to the net and beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from an impossible angle, giving the Hawks a 3-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

‘‘Sometimes I make some lucky plays, and they find a way in,’’ Kane said afterward.


Game 2 is Sunday, and the best thing the Hawks can do for humanity is to dispatch of the Wild as soon as possible. The Colorado Avalanche found themselves stuck in the Wild’s quicksand in a first-round series and lost in seven games. The Avalanche had better skaters and more talent than the Wild; it didn’t matter. I said the Wild were boring to watch; I never said they weren’t dangerous.

There are lessons to be learned from that. It takes a disciplined team to put up with the Wild. They play a little like the St. Louis Blues but with less malice in their hearts. The Hawks dominated play in the first period and had several excellent scoring opportunities but led only 1-0. That’s playing right into the Wild’s hands. Does a Wild have hands? I don’t know. I just know you don’t want to get in the muck with them.

‘‘We’re a team that I think is comfortable playing any kind of style, whether it’s physical, whether it’s a grind style, whether it’s fast-paced,’’ Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said.

Beating the Wild requires excellent goaltending, and Crawford has been all of that in the playoffs to this point. It’s early yet, but his play bodes well for the Hawks in their pursuit of a second consecutive Stanley Cup title. He stopped a breakaway by Zach Parise and had several other — how would broadcaster Pat Foley put it? — big saves.

This isn’t going to be easy, but it should be easier than the series against the Blues.

With the Wild, the action’s often in the neutral zone, so spectators spend a lot of time watching ice. If that’s what you’re into, follow this team. Or open your freezer and stare at the ice-cube maker.

The Wild outshot the Hawks 17-3 in the second period, and the only goal that was scored came off the stick of Marian Hossa on the power play. You might think that proves the Wild have a bona fide offense. I look at it as proof the Hawks have a bad habit of playing with their food. It’s something they need to stop doing.

They took a 2-0 lead, watched the Wild tie the score with two third-period goals, then scored three consecutive goals to put the game away.

‘‘I think having some time off, we might have been a little rusty,’’ Kane said. ‘‘They’re coming off a Game 7 win, so maybe there was a little high for them. But I thought they played pretty well. They probably took it to us most of the game, so we’ll try to come back with a better effort.’’

The Hawks found their stride with four victories in a row against the Blues. There is no indication that’s going to change now.

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