For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, NHL.com 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 Minnesota Wild got back into their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks with back-to-back wins at home. After watching Minnesota even the series at two games apiece, longtime NHL coach and former player Craig Ramsay has five words of advice for the Wild as the series shifts to Chicago for Game 5 on Sunday at United Center (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
"Get the defensemen more involved," Ramsay told NHL.com.
Ramsay said the Wild did a good job of activating from the blue line in Games 3 and 4. He specifically said it's a major reason why the Wild won Game 4 on Friday.
Ryan Suter carried the puck behind the net and helped create Jason Pominville's goal that went in off Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in the second period.
Jared Spurgeon helped set up Nino Niederreiter's game-winning goal with a blue line-to-blue line stretch pass to Charlie Coyle.
Spurgeon later scored a power-play goal after Mikko Koivu found him with a diagonal pass as he was cutting through the right circle.
"What it does if you have your defensemen involved is suddenly those very busy, active Chicago defenseman have to play defense," Ramsay said. "They have to sit back there and play defense. They have to worry about you coming at them. That is a huge difference. You want Chicago to be worried about you.
"If [the Blackhawks] are just having some fun and playing their game, they're awfully good. Those defensemen are going to jump, be involved, and more importantly that opens up time and space for [Patrick] Kane in particular. If he has time and space, he's going to make you pay for it eventually. So aren't you better to make them play defense, to be worried about you going backwards? That to me is a key."
Ramsay said the Wild defensemen were aggressive in Game 1, but Minnesota lost 5-2. He wonders if they were guilty of overcompensating in Game 2, when they lost 4-1.
"The one thing I said after Game 1 is you have to be careful here, you can't start making too many adjustments," Ramsay said. "Minnesota lost the game and they were behind, but they played very well. In Game 2, they didn't come out and look like the same team. They weren't nearly as aggressive. They got it back and now they have to keep it."
The Wild are 1-5 on the road in the playoffs, with their win coming in overtime in Game 7 against the Colorado Avalanche. Ramsay looks back at Game 1 of this series as a reason why he thinks the Wild can activate the D and be aggressive Sunday in an attempt to take a 3-2 series lead.
"You can't just say, 'Let's be more careful,' because you're just going to end up watching them play," Ramsay said. "Chicago is fun to watch, but not when you're playing against them.
"It's a key issue to make Chicago play defense. Make Chicago worry about playing in their own end. If you can get them on their heels, are they better than anybody else? Anybody playing on their heels is going to have some trouble."