Even the Blackhawks players find the Minnesota Wild a little, well, boring.
“The commitment to finding the patient game that we’ve been talking about for a long time — it has to happen,” Jonathan Toews said Thursday afternoon as the Hawks wrapped up their preparation for their second-round series with the Wild. “We need to have that mentality of just doing the little things right, even if it feels tedious, and not so much the game that we’ve [usually] played.”
OK, they’re not quite the mid-1990s New Jersey Devils, masters of the dreaded neutral-zone trap. But the Wild play a cautious, defensive, and yes, sometimes a little bit dull, style of hockey. What makes them dangerous, though, is they also have plenty of speed and offensive talent. Get too aggressive against the Wild, and they’ll make you pay by forcing a turnover and burning you with an odd-man rush the other way.
If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s fundamentally how the Hawks play, too — defense begetting offense.
So the key word this series will be “patience.”
“Probably the most important word we’ll use on a regular basis,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Patience in games is going to be important. But you still need pace to that, and you have to play the right way. You can’t get frustrated either by not scoring or not generating a whole lot, knowing that’s what you try to do to them, as well. But they’re very effective in the way they play, and I think with the history we have with them, that’s an important word.”
Patience has been a virtue throughout this week, too. By the time the puck drops late Friday night, the Hawks will have gone nearly six days between games. They’re as healthy as they’ve been all season — Kris Versteeg missed Thursday’s practice with a minor lower-body injury, but he was set to be a scratch, anyway — which is a rare luxury in May.
But they’ve also been getting antsy.
“It’s been a little bit weird here,” Marcus Kruger said. “So many days without a game. But we try to stay in the playoff mode anyways, and prepare every day, get better, heal your body and eat right and do all those things. I think we could take advantage of that.”
The wait between series is finally over. But the waiting game is just getting started.
“It’s a balancing act between [doing] too much and too little, and being smart defensively, and eventually the goals will come for us,” Toews said. “We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of guys who want to create and want to score big goals in the playoffs. But you’ve got to just chip away and get some ugly ones when they come.”