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Blackhawks seek way to shake free of Wild

by Shawn Roarke

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks admit they are frustrated by the defensive ways of the Minnesota Wild in this best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series, which is tied 2-2.

The Wild clawed their way back with a pair of dominating wins in Minnesota, allowing Chicago to score a total of two goals and manage 39 shots combined in Games 3 and 4. On a good night, the high-flying Blackhawks don't have to break a sweat to reach 40 shots in game. But in the four games of this series, Chicago hasn't managed more than 23 in any.

Game 5 is Sunday at United Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS), and the Blackhawks believe they have a multilayered answer to the suffocation they have been suffering.

First, Chicago is going to fall back to the default position of any team struggling to score in the Stanley Cup Playoffs: Get to the net with a purpose.

"We have to get some bodies at the net, [and] when we do shoot the puck there's some traffic," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday at United Center. "We had some zone time that things didn't materialize. But I think whether you're getting 20 or 30 shots against this team, that's almost the quota. If you get quality off that, it's going to be with traffic at the net."

The Blackhawks are a high-skill team that likes to string together passes and make pretty plays. It is not working against the Wild, who have no qualms about setting up a five-man gantlet that must be navigated before a quality shot-on-goal attempt can even be contemplated.

So Quenneville is preaching the gritty style used by other teams so successfully in the playoffs. He wants his players to man-up in the slot, taking away the vision of Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. He wants his players to throw pucks at Bryzgalov, creating rebounds and deflection opportunities. He wants his group to be harder on the puck when they don't have it, generating offensive chances off turnovers and winning 50-50 puck battles.

Basically, he wants his team to play the way the Wild have in the past two games.

The Blackhawks also have another weapon in their arsenal: They are one of the fastest teams in the NHL and have to use that speed to their advantage.

"We need to play with high speed like we usually do," Chicago forward Marcus Kruger said. "That's something we haven't found, really, in this series."

Ilya Bryzgalov
Ilya Bryzgalov
Goalie - MIN
GAA: 2.91 | SVP: 0.866
Forward Michal Handzus said, "We can use speed. They try to slow you down for sure; they clog up the neutral zone and you have to get through it with speed. If we play a simple game, get speed through the neutral zone, you can get more shots. That's what you have to do."

The Blackhawks believe the last chance at a line change, afforded to the home team, will tilt the matchups dramatically in their favor.

Many of the top offensive players for the Blackhawks, including forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, looked out of sync during the two games in Minnesota. That's because Wild coach Mike Yeo was able to deploy the line centered by Mikko Koivu against the line of his choice. Plus, Yeo was able to deploy defenseman Ryan Suter against the forwards he felt to be most dangerous.

Quenneville said he will work harder in Game 5 to get away from those matchups and try to exploit the fall-off in talent from Suter when Minnesota gets deeper into its defensive rotation.

"The matchup, they've had it both games," Quenneville said. "Suter probably plays exclusively against Toews on the back end and up front he sees a lot of Koivu. We'll see; I know that having the last change we'll see what we can do, what we look to do. Every game is different, but certainly that's a very good pair and it's a very good line as well."

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