The Second Round series between the Blackhawks and Wild changes venues on Tuesday night, taking Games 3 and 4 to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Blackhawks went just 1-2-0 on Minnesota’s home ice during the 2013-14 regular season, but they did outscore the Wild 9-7 in the those three games. The teams split the two Minnesota matchups in their 2013 Stanley Cup Playoff series; the Wild took a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3, and the Blackhawks won a 3-0 shutout decision in Game 4.
Yet again, Bryan Bickell is proving his value as a playoff performer; the big winger collected a playoff career-high three points (1G, 2A) in Sunday’s victory, extending his point streak to five games (5G, 3A) and tying him for the postseason lead with five goals. The Orono, Ontario, native has multiple points in six of his 46 career playoff games (13.0 percent), compared to nine such performances in 279 regular-season contests (3.2 percent).
Entering Game 2, Brandon Saad had been relatively quiet in the 2014 playoffs, recording just two assists in the five games preceeding Sunday’s matchup. He broke out in a major way in Game 2, scoring two goals—his first in 19 games, dating back to the regular season—including the game-winner. It also marked the 21-year-old’s first multi-point playoff game, and he was named Third Star of the Game.
Although the Wild are not the punishing physical team that some other clubs in the conference may be, the Blackhawks have definitely not escaped their fair share of bumps and bruises. Chicago blocked 25 shots on Sunday, compared to Minnesota’s 11, which included six by Brent Seabrook, three each from Nick Leddy and Patrick Sharp, and four by Niklas Hjalmarsson, one of which went off his neck (naturally, he didn’t miss a shift). Minnesota out-hit the Blackhawks again in Game 2, 32-23, but Seabrook, Sharp and Michal Rozsival each had three to their credit.
Some of his teammates have gotten more of the limelight, but it could be argued that Marian Hossa has been the MVP of the series to this point. The veteran from Trencin, Slovakia, has recorded six points (1G, 5A) in the first two games of the round, while also seeing valuable time on the power play and penalty kill. Hossa started just 30 percent of his shifts in Game 2 in the offensive zone—fourth-lowest on the team—which indicates the coaching staff’s belief that he and linemates Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews can both shut down their opponents and create offensive chances for themselves.
The series’ first game away from the United Center will pose an interesting challenge for both the Blackhawks and Wild. In the first two games, Blackhawks Head Coach Joel Quenneville used his benefit of having the last line change to check the Wild’s top line of Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle with Toews’ line. It’s likely that Minnesota bench boss Mike Yeo will use his home-ice advantage to try and get his top offensive playmakers more opportunities against a different Chicago line, which will both test the Blackhawks’ overall depth and put more pressure on the Wild’s big guns to produce. Despite what the final scores say, this has been a fairly evenly matched series; catching the other side on a bad line change or an unfavorable matchup could be all that separates a win from a loss in Game 3.