Following Wild games, Managing Editor Mike Doyle will give the Five Takeaways that he'll remember from each contest. Today, he'll look back at a 5-2 loss in Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Chicago Blackhawks:
In a seven game series, the adage is, “The series doesn’t start until the home team loses.” Well, the Blackhawks did its part tonight by protecting its home-ice advantage.
The United Center in Chicago is not an easy place for the road team to pull out a victory. It’s aptly named the Madhouse on Madison, because the atmosphere is electric, especially during Jim Cornelison’s rendition of the National Anthem with 20,000-plus fans on their feet and cheering at the top of their collective lungs. With the series shifting back to the State of Hockey on Sunday, I expect the fans at Xcel Energy Center to be loud and supportive as the Wild hosts its first playoff game in five years.
Josh Harding had another solid performance and kept the Wild in the game until the third period. Harding’s 43-save night tied a Minnesota record for most saves in a regulation playoff game. All you can ask from a goaltender is that he keeps you in a contest and occasionally steals one, and for the second-straight day Harding has done his job.
For scribes, it’s hard not to write anything about Harding without mentioning his battle with multiple sclerosis; heck, I’m doing it right now. But with his performance in the first two games of the series, we should be concentrating more on his great play than what he is dealing with off the ice. Hockey players don’t like to draw attention to themselves and would much rather talk about the game than their personal lives, and Harding is no different. He’ll continue to field questions about it, but I know for a fact the netminder would rather just talk about the battle on the ice rather than the disease he is fighting everyday.
The Blackhawks outplayed the Wild tonight, but they got a little luck along the way. More accurately Michael Frolik got a lot of luck along the way. Frolik scored Chicago’s first two goals and both came from fortuitous bounces right onto his tape. On both goals, the Blackhawks were on the rush and fired the puck that Wild defenders blocked. However, on both plays, the puck bounced right onto the tape of Frolik going to the net.
When the replays were shown on the jumbo-tron at United Center during the second intermission, the Hawks’ announcer calling the game accompanied the highlights. On both goal calls, even the home team announced called them lucky bounces. On the second, his call was literally, “Another lucky bounce!” I’m not saying that Chicago didn’t deserve to win that game, but it’s hard to secure victory against a team like the Hawks when the bounces aren’t going your way.
The Wild needs the second line to get going and it responded by getting the club on the board in the second period, cutting into the Blackhawks two-goal lead.
The play started in Minnesota’s defensive end when Jason Zucker chipped the puck out at his own blue line high off the glass. Matt Cullen picked up the puck at the red line and turned up the ice. Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was pinching on the play, so Cullen had a 2-on-1 with a hard-charging Devin Setoguchi. Cullen slipped a perfect pass by Duncan Keith and Setoguchi had a clean look and fired a wrist shot over the glove of Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
Minnesota wanted to be more physical tonight, and out-hit the Blackhawks, 43-35. Zach Parise led the way with six hits, while Kyle Brodziak and Cal Clutterbuck had five each. On the blue line, Justin Falk, Jared Spurgeon, Ryan Suter and Marco Scandella all lined up three hits.
In the playoffs, you have to pay the price physically to win. There is nothing worse for defensemen than going back into the defensive zone to retrieve pucks knowing that they are going to be punished; same goes for forwards entering the zone with the puck armed with the knowledge a D-man is waiting to hammer him into the glass. More often than not, it’s the team willing to sacrifice its body that wins. This is why finishing checks is so important in a seven-game series. The longer the series lasts, the more the hits in games one and two add up in the end. With the Hawks winning the opening two contests, the Wild looks to continue the physical play and extend the series back on home ice Sunday.