CHICAGO – Everything was stacking up for the Minnesota Wild at United Center on Sunday until just past the midway point of the Chicago Blackhawks' 4-1 win in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round.
Borrowing a page from the Wild’s playbook, the Blackhawks beat them at their own game to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series, which shifts to Xcel Energy Center for the next two games. The 2-0 lead Chicago took in the second period was more of a concern after the game.
Instead of the Wild, it was the Blackhawks who played sound defense until capitalizing on a couple of key mistakes. Goals by Chicago captain Jonathan Toews at 12:28 and forward Patrick Kane at 19:40 of the second period put Minnesota in a bad spot heading into the third for the second time in as many games.
"They have that killer instinct," said Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter, whose turnover in the neutral zone led to Toews’ shorthanded goal. "Their top players know how to score. I made a mistake on that first one, and it's in the back of the net."
Actually, the puck never came close to the back of the net.
Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made the initial save on Toews’ snap shot, but the puck hit the knob of his goal stick in midair and bounced into just over the goal line before Suter got to it. It was a tough bounce, but it wouldn’t have been had Marian Hossa not jarred the puck free from Suter and chased it down for a pass to Toews.
The Wild nearly evened the score on a mini-break by Kyle Brodziak less than two minutes later, but a sprawling save by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford preserved the lead. Kane made it 2-0 with 20 seconds left in the period after Wild forward Thomas Vanek failed to get the puck deep into the Chicago zone.
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith scooped the puck from a carom off the boards just over his own blue line and sent a stretch pass to Kane, who was streaking toward the Wild zone. Kane broke in cleanly on Dubnyk and beat him with a wrist shot to the far side.
“We didn’t make mistakes,” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t know what team played that game, but it wasn’t us tonight.”
Yeo’s assessment was half-right.
Halfway through, with neither team having scored, it seemed like the kind of game the Wild win. They trailed in shots but hadn't given the Blackhawks many quality scoring chances. They often lull teams to sleep at that point by clogging the neutral zone and striking quickly off turnovers and ill-advised decisions.
It was just the opposite this time.
The Wild came a little unglued having to chase the lead in the third rather than waiting for opportunities, and the Blackhawks are the wrong team to face when that happens.
But Yeo wasn’t focused on the Blackhawks.
"I really don’t care about them, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "I care about our team right now. They’re a good team. They’re here for a reason. We’re a good team. We’re here for a reason. First game had a different feel to it. This game, this was not us. And the good news is will be the last time we say this in this series."
If it’s not, odds are Chicago will have won another game or possibly the series. This isn’t completely uncharted territory for Minnesota, which lost the first two games in Chicago last season during the second round. But it is the first time the Wild have lost consecutive games in regulation with Dubnyk in goal; that hadn’t happened since he was acquired Jan. 14 in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes.
They’ve got to rebound on home ice to get back in the series.
“Just win the next game and go from there,” said left wing Zach Parise, who finished with a minus-1 rating and was on the ice for Toews’ goal and Kane’s empty-netter. “It’s easy right now to look at all the negatives and point fingers. We’re not going to do that. We’re going to stick together and win Game 3. That’s what we have to do and then we’ll go from there.”
They might have to take a few more chances offensively in Game 3. Despite playing well defensively during the first 30 minutes, the Wild didn’t generate much and lost the puck-possession battle again.
“It was not a personnel thing, it was a between-the-ears thing,” Yeo said. “We didn’t make the mistakes. I don’t know what team played that game, but it wasn’t us tonight. It was 0-0 through the midway point of the game and we were doing some things OK without the puck to keep it at 0-0. But with the puck … that’s not us."