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Between the Dots: Wild stifle, stymie Hawks in sleepy affair

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks

ST. PAUL—If the Blackhawks had played this game in Denver, where a lot of really smart people thought they would be playing now, you absolutely could have blamed it on the thin air. The defending Stanley Cup champions couldn’t move because they couldn’t breathe.

But they were in Minnesota Tuesday night, the so-called State of Hockey. Plenty of lakes and lots of oxygen. So, what was it, if not the altitude? Perhaps the attitude?

“Frustrating,” huffed Duncan Keith after the Wild erupted with four third period goals to win, 4-0, in a Game 3 that was, shall we say, rather careful for 40 minutes. Then the home team scored on only its 11th and 12th shots, a record Xcel Energy crowd of 19,416 shed its inhibitions, and this playoff series suddenly took on a more genuine vibe of competitive balance.

In the previous round, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock talked about the Blackhawks’ “resolve.” Here, Mike Yeo picked up with how his Wild had to cross the “mental hurdle.” But, to be blunt, the visitors failed to impose their pedigree on these proceedings and instead accepted the role of willing accomplices to a sleepy affair.

Statistically, this effort was not as out of character as it was artistically. Only infrequently do the Blackhawks bomb to the point where you reach for the remote control. But in nine straight postseason series, including two successful Stanley Cup runs, they have dropped the opening game on the road. Also, after Game 3 of the last five postseason series — including the most recent against St. Louis, the Blackhawks are 13-1.

Thus, when Head Coach Joel Quenneville tossed out the idea of forgetting this thing and getting “excited” about Game 4 here Friday night, he wasn’t thinking outside the box. Coach Q already did some of that by scratching Minnesota native Nick Leddy, a regular on defense who sat toward the end of Game 2 in Chicago.

Meanwhile, Niklas Hjalmarsson wore a protective collar around his throat after being drilled by a puck off the stick of Jonas Brodin Sunday. Earlier Tuesday, Quenneville revealed that Hjalmarsson would not be elaborating on the harrowing experience because he is being told by doctors to stay silent.

In theory, Hjalmarsson’s situation would affect Swedish communication lines with Johnny Oduya, his defense partner. But Oduya did not seem too concerned. “We’ve been playing together so long, we basically know what each other is going to do,” said Oduya.

Quenneville quipped that if players could exchange such a mishap for being spared from talking to the media, there would be a long line of volunteers. Prophetic stuff from Q. Group laryngitis was appropriate after Tuesday night’s disappointing drill.

But in all seriousness, one hopes that Hjalmarsson will heal and return to normal. Dave Manson, a robust rearguard with the Blackhawks, received a punch in the larynx from Sergio Momesso during a 1992 fight. Manson underwent a couple surgical procedures since, but his voice is still strained and raspy.

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