Even between familiar foes, the first game of a playoff series is a learning process — feeling out the game plan, picking up tendencies, figuring out matchups. And the Blackhawks can take a few lessons away from their harrowing 4-3 victory Friday night over the Minnesota Wild in Game 1 of their second-round series.
For one thing, Devan Dubnyk is not invincible, as three first-period goals showed. For another, the Wild are hardly doe-eyed playoff novices anymore, as a ferocious three-goal second-period rally and third-period push proved.
Oh, and one other lesson, courtesy of rookie Teuvo Teravainen: “Sometimes good things happen when I shoot.”
Teravainen’s seemingly harmless flip from the half-wall with 58.2 seconds left in the second period somehow sneaked past Dubnyk and allowed the Hawks to escape with a victory, and with home-ice advantage intact.
Any playoff win is a good playoff win, but the biggest lesson here is an obvious one: The Hawks need to be better.
“They’re a really good hockey team,” Hawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “You can just feel that out there. They’re just after you like crazy, especially on their forecheck. … We’ve got to play better than we did over 60 minutes the next game if we’re going to get a win.”
The Hawks had the start. They had the finish. But they’d better work on that middle part.
It was a mirror image of Game 1 against Nashville in the first round — only this time, the Hawks were on the wrong side of it. They raced out to a 3-0 lead on goals by Brandon Saad (just 75 seconds in), Patrick Kane and Marcus Kruger, only to give it all back in the second period, just as the Predators did two weeks earlier in Nashville. Jason Zucker scored 81 seconds into the period, Zach Parise added a power-play goal at 5:07 (Thomas Vanek had the primary assist on both) and Mikael Granlund took the puck from Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews and beat Corey Crawford (30 saves) to tie it.
The three goals came in a mere 8:09.
“We were sitting back way too much and letting them do whatever they wanted there in the first 10 minutes,” Hjalmarsson said. “That’s not how you can play in the payoffs when you’re up three goals. They’re going to take advantage of it.”
But while Scott Darling came in to make 42 saves against the Predators in that first-round Game 1 victory, Dubnyk couldn’t close the door in this one. Hjalmarsson called Teravainen’s goal a “big momentum changer” after what had been a debacle of a second period.
Teravainen, a healthy scratch for Games 3-6 in the first round, admitted he was surprised his shot went in.
“That wasn’t the biggest shot,” he said.
It didn’t have to be.
“I didn’t pick it up until it was about 5-6 feet in front of me,” said Dubnyk, who finished with 31 saves. “I kind of waved at it and missed it. I didn’t see it come off the guy’s stick. I didn’t pick it up at all. That’s my job, to get out and find a way to find the puck at all times. I didn’t do that there and it cost me. It’s certainly a disappointing one to give up when you work as hard as we did to come back.”
Wild coach Mike Yeo was disappointed, but hardly discouraged.
“If you want to ask, we’re not rattled right now,” he said. “It was obviously disappointing to lose the game and it puts a pretty big emphasis on the next one for us, and we know that we’re going to have to be better than that. That’s what we do, we get better as the series goes on.”
For the Hawks, the start was everything they had hoped for, and had talked about all week. But the second-period collapse was everything they were trying to avoid. And Crawford had to come up huge a few times in the third period after the shaky second.
“There are different situations you’ve got to kind of learn to deal with,” Toews said a day earlier. “One of them might be protecting a lead, whether you’re up a goal or two, and the other team’s coming at you hard. You’ve got to find a way to find that same level of determination to keep playing the same way, whether you’re up a couple of goals or down a couple of goals.”
They didn’t. They won anyway. But they’d better be careful. They might not be so lucky next time.