The Blackhawks dropped a 4-0 decision to Minnesota in Game 3 on Tuesday, with all four Wild goals coming in the third period. Scoring chances were at a premium, the teams combining for 37 shots on goal while blocking 30. Chicago’s 19 shots marked a postseason low through nine games in the 2014 playoffs, and improving upon that total will be a high priority for the team as they try to take a stranglehold on the series by winning Game 4. One area that’s surely earmarked for improvement is the power play, which has been kept quiet for the two previous games; the Blackhawks managed just three shots on net in four opportunities combined across Games 2 and 3.
At just 5-foot-10, Mikael Granlund isn’t the most imposing figure on the ice, nor does he have the experience and pedigree of some of his more decorated teammates, but the 22-year-old Finn has provided the Wild with a few highlight-reel moments over the first two rounds. On Wednesday, Granlund posted his first career playoff multi-goal game, igniting Minnesota’s top line, which combined for six points (3G, 3A) in Game 3 after being held to just two assists in the first two games. Stopping the hardworking yet skilled trio of Granlund, Zach Parise and Jason Pominville will go a long way to winning Game 4.
Although Chicago has lost the first road game of every playoff series since the 2010 Western Conference Final, the good news is that the Blackhawks have trended upward as each series has progressed. Since 2009 (under head coach Joel Quennville), Chicago has a league-best 30-9 record in Games 4-7 in the playoffs, including a 13-1 mark in their last five series dating back to the start of the 2013 Stanley Cup run. On the road, the Blackhawks have gone 15-5 in Games 4-7 over that span, while outscoring their opponents 70-46, including 18 power-play goals.
Minnesota forward Matt Cooke will make his first appearance of the series in Game 4 after serving a seven-game suspension for a kneeing infraction against Colorado’s Tyson Barrie last round. While he probably won’t put up major points for the Wild, they will count on him to play a physical, aggressive game that more often than not drives opponents crazy. He’ll likely skate on Minnesota’s third line alongside Justin Fontaine and Erik Haula, who combined for the game-winning goal in Game 3.
While Andrew Shaw remains sidelined for Chicago, defenseman Nick Leddy will return to the lineup for Game 4 after missing his first game after 296 appearances on Tuesday. Leddy’s return could boost the efficiency of the Blackhawks’s second power-play unit; the Eden Prairie, Minn., native posted a power-play assist in Game 1 at the United Center and led the team during the regular season with six points (1G, 5A) in five tilts against his hometown team, including a goal and an assist with the man advantage.
Chicago was unceremoniously shut out at the hands of the Wild in Game 3, seeing limited scoring opportunities and getting no traction from the power play. There’s no mystery as to the adjustments that Quenneville will make in order to reignite his star players: picking up the tempo in the transition and not allowing the Wild to set up roadblocks in the neutral zone, as well as better support on the forecheck. If the Blackhawks can get a couple of early goals past Ilya Bryzgalov, they will be in a good position to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Chicago on Sunday.