Game Time: 7:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet360, TVA2 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Twin/Tone Records: Hockey Wilderness
While it took a little bit of a roundabout way of getting there, the result in game one on Friday was the same as it has been for now three years and counting for the Hawks and Wild. And if this is going to be a series, the Wild are going to need to empty the tank this evening in hopes of returning to the Twin Cities with a split.
Though it didn’t look like it through the first half of the game, the Wild once again got roundly trounced in even strength shot attempts by the Hawks. By the time the final horn sounded, they were out attempted 52 to 41 (a 44% share), and outshot 34 to 26 (43%). As has been discussed at length, that cannot be a long term recipe for success, and it was put perfectly on display exactly why Devan Dubnyk can’t have an off night.
Of particular concern should be exactly who got skulled for the Wild. While Ryan Suter and Jonas Brodin don’t really have it in their repertoire to really push the play the other way and were always going to get a long look at the Toews line, that the second pairing of Scandella and Spurgeon were a team worst -11 and -13 respectively in attempts against while primarily facing the Richards, Kane, and Bickell line (about 7:00 minutes worth of ice time). They also had Mikko Koivu and Nino Neiderreiter in front of them, who were also underwater in their share of possession, and that was initially thought to be one of the more favorable matchups for the Wild even on the road, given Koivu’s size advantage and Richards’ mediocrity (to put it lightly) at the dot. Ironically, the handful of players for Minnesota who actually got some push the other way were the oft maligned Jordan Leopold and Matt Dumba, along with the lead footed Tomas Vanek and Hall of Fame turd burglar Matt Cooke, all at modest +4’s to lead the Wild.
Friday was also the second time in the last four games that Devan Dubnyk got touched for four or more goals, once again all at even strength. He’s been seeing the puck too well and too consistently for months now to suggest this is anything other than a slight hiccup for him, as he did stand tall (GET IT) in the third when the Hawks were looking to extend the lead. But if the Wild can’t get on the right side of the possession ledger, a slight hiccup may be all it takes to send them home. They are giving Dubnyk absolutely no margin for error in his first playoff appearance, though on a certain level that might seem morbidly familar from him after starting games for the Oilers and Coyotes over the past two seasons.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, while the first half of the second period is one they’ll want to forget, overall that’s as solid a victory as they’ve managed to put together in months. All four lines scored, and most importantly, the Hawks were able to close with authority. After gaining the lead in the final minute of the second period thanks to Finnish Baby Jesus’ seeing eye shot from the left wall, the Hawks only allowed the Wild four shots on goal and 10 attempts 5v5 for the remainder of the game.
There are certainly some things that need to be cleaned up that contributed to the Wild’s comeback. The penalty kill continues to be rash that just won’t go away, and it’s been echoed for years now here that a nails penalty kill is far more favorable to a WMD power play, particularly in the playoffs, and particularly for a team like the Hawks. While having a power play that can capitalize at key times when a goal is absolutely needed is obviously advantageous, an automatic PK forces the opposition to score 5v5, where the Hawks have the advantage on most teams. Generally when the PK hits a rut the call has been for the forwards to be more active in pressuring their point men and anyone working the half wall, but that just simply isn’t the Hawks style, so the hope is that Corey Crawford will regain his early season form in seeing the puck. Or that Michal Rozsival will stop taking flat footed penalties.
Crawford was sharp for the most part on Friday, particularly in the first with a couple of very nice kick saves, but really on the Zucker goal can’t be attributed to him. He absolutely has to smother the puck that led to the Wild’s power play marker, and even if Granlund was allowed to walk free out of the corner, he’s got to have his post tighter. Obviously his rhythm has been messed with since even before the regular season ended, and this will be the first time he’s started back to back games without getting yanked in nearly a month.
On Friday the Wild came out trying to press the Hawks and it led to two fast break goals against before half the stadium had finished their first beer in their seats. Mike Yeo certainly likes to mix up his strategies, so it would not be a surprise if he tries to gum things up to try to grab his team a very ugly, slow, and boring road win. Either way, Joel Quenneville still gets to pick the matchups, and if they don’t get any kind of drive out of their second pairing again, it’s going to make for very tough sledding. The Hawks just need to continue to clean up some of the nagging aspects of their game at home to hold serve, which they’ll need to given the importance of home ice in this series. Get after it. Let’s go Hawks.