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Ramsay: Defense is key for Blackhawks and Wild

by Tal Pinchevsky

For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, has enlisted the help of former NHL coach Craig Ramsay to break down the action. Ramsay will be checking in throughout the series.

Ramsay played in more than 1,000 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres before going on to coach the Sabres, Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers. In the 2000 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he led the Flyers to the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Final. Ramsay was most recently an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.

The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-2 in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series Friday. But longtime coach Craig Ramsey told that the score in that game was not indicative of how well the Wild played. In fact, he believes Minnesota gave Chicago all it could handle before Patrick Kane scored two third-period goals that decided the game.

Ramsay said Minnesota shouldn't make too many adjustments heading into Game 2 on Sunday at United Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS). As the Wild did in Game 1, they will continue to rely on their defense to supplement their offense. Defenseman Clayton Stoner sparked Minnesota's comeback from a 2-0 deficit with a goal 2:19 into the third period and made a real impression on Ramsay.

"He banged everybody. He got a goal but he was very physical all night long. I think he set a nice tone and the rest of the team followed," Ramsay said. "The key now is to have your blue line involved. Who is the leading scorer on the Blackhawks? Right now it's [Brent] Seabrook."

Seabrook's eight points tie him with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews for the Blackhawks lead, but Seabrook has his eight points in four games; he was suspended for three games during the first round. His defense partner, Duncan Keith, has seven points. Minnesota must find a way to keep Chicago's talented defensemen honest. Ramsay said they've done it so far by adopting a longtime Chicago strategy.

"Both teams use a lot of stretch plays on their breakouts. Chicago has always done that but I thought Minnesota did it a number of times as well; using that stretch guy to back up the Chicago [defense]. It's important because Chicago's defense is such an important part of its offense," Ramsay said. "I really think Minnesota has a chance to win the series. I thought they really played a strong game."

The difference in an otherwise even Game 1 was Kane, who bailed out his team 86 seconds after Kyle Brodziak tied the game 2-2 at 6:56 of the third period. Kane's highlight-reel game-winner was another example of the Blackhawks' depth of talent.

"Chicago has so many weapons, they can really explode on you and create goals in a hurry," Ramsay said. "[Kane] is a pretty dynamic player and that goal he got to get the lead back was pretty special. People try to knock him off the puck but he's just so strong on his feet. His ability to hold on to the puck and make plays and score goals is really impressive."

Minnesota can't match Chicago's talent, so its goaltending must find a way to cancel out the Blackhawks' stars. That didn't happen in Game 1, when Ilya Bryzgalov allowed four goals on 17 shots.

"At some point you need the goalie to win you a game or a period when you don't play well," Ramsay said. "[Corey] Crawford has done that for the Hawks, and Minnesota is going to have to get that from their goaltender at some point."

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