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Ramsay: Wild must stop Blackhawks' stretch passes

by Dan Rosen

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 Minnesota Wild are perfect at Xcel Energy Center in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with five wins in five games.

If they want to stay that way and extend their season by at least one more game, longtime NHL coach and player Craig Ramsay said the Wild need to make two relatively minor adjustments against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of their Western Conference Second Round series Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).

"They have to make it difficult on the goalie by getting someone in front of him," Ramsay told, "and they have to be aware of those stretch passes."

Ramsay said the Wild should be able to make each adjustment work in conjunction. The key is using the high ice in the offensive zone.

By using the high ice, the Wild will have three guys higher in the zone, creating up top to generate scoring chances off shots and deflections. The other two forwards have to get to the front of the net, but having three players high preserves Minnesota's defensive integrity, particularly against a stretch pass, should it lose possession of the puck.

"If there is a turnover, they will have people in good position to backcheck because your high forward is ready to come back and your defensemen are in position," Ramsay said. "By using the high ice, they should have guys in good position both offensively to shoot and defensively to backcheck through the middle to take away the stretch pass off the wall or into the middle of the ice."

The Blackhawks love the stretch pass. They try to use it whenever it's available, and they burned the Wild with a mini-version of it in Game 5 because of Peter Regin's speed.

Regin received Brent Seabrook's pass out of the defensive zone, dished it to the left-wing wall, got it back and burst down the middle of the attacking zone with speed. Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin had to hook him to slow him down, and he didn't get away with it.

The Blackhawks capitalized on the ensuing power play when Bryan Bickell parked himself in front of Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and beat him on a deflection of Patrick Kane's wrist shot.

Ramsay, though, said the Wild would have been in better position to defend Regin instead of hook him had defenseman Ryan Suter closed the gap in the middle of the ice after Regin moved the puck to defenseman Duncan Keith on the left-wing wall.

He said closing the gap is one key to defending the Blackhawks' transition speed, especially when they use the stretch pass.

"Regin went right through the D because they were too wide," Ramsay said. "When it goes up one side, that other defenseman on the other side has to immediately get back into the middle of the ice. Regin went through, the Wild end up taking a penalty, and the Hawks score on the power play. That's going to be a very important issue. If they're going to stretch the puck, and Chicago is going to try to explode a guy through the middle, either a forward has to be really good defensively coming back or the defense have to react into the middle of the ice. Either way they do it they have to take away the middle of the ice."

Ramsay said he noticed the Wild trying to use the high ice to make plays and create scoring chances in the third period Sunday, but they didn't have anybody at the net, so Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford didn't face the same type of challenge Bryzgalov faced on Bickell's game-tying goal.

Crawford finished with 27 saves in Game 5.

"Crawford was really solid," Ramsay said. "He's not floundering around. He's not diving and making spectacular saves. He really just looks awfully good, like he knows what he's doing. He's really in control of himself. I'm sure that's a bit frustrating for the Wild."

It's up to the Wild to make Crawford frustrated in Game 6 and take away the Blackhawks' favorite option, the stretch pass.

"I think at home they do a better job of it," Ramsay said.



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