The Minnesota Wild fell to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night by a 5-2 final score. The Blackhawks now have a commanding two games to none lead in their 1st round Stanley Cup Playoff Series. Chicago clearly was the better team tonight, controlling play from the outset and the Wild never really challenged them all night. The Blackhawks picked up a pairs of goals by Michael Frolik and Patrick Sharp and a single tally by Bryan Bickell. They held the Wild to goals by Devin Setoguchi and Marco Scandella. Chicago jumped out to an early lead, scoring the games first goal 8:34 into the opening period, from there they never looked back. The series now shifts to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for games 3 and 4, this coming Sunday and Tuesday. After tonight’s loss the Wild find their backs against the wall and searching for answers as they’ve now scored just 3 goals total in the first two games of the series. A disappointed Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo had this to say regarding the loss, “We weren’t playing with the pace we needed to play and certainly a large number of the things we were doing helped their game. They were better tonight from game one and we were worse.”
Josh Harding started in goal for the Wild, his second start and second loss of the series. He faced a barrage of 48 shots on goal by the Blackhawks. Wild players blocked another 21 shots and several more missed the net. All in all Chicago fired off well over 80 shot attempts at the Wild’s net minder. Minnesota’s offensive production was nowhere near those numbers. Blackhawks’ goalie Corey Crawford face just 28 Wild shots on goal while his team mates blocked 11 more. All in all the Wild’s offense looked anemic and had trouble from the start, failing to establish any sustained pressure in the offensive zone, mishandling pucks and making poor passes. I wouldn’t be surprised if they failed to put together 3 consecutive passes all night long. To put is simply, the Minnesota Wild were outplayed from the opening face off to the final horn by a motivated and focused Blackhawks team. The Wild are now in a deep hole, historically teams that take a 2-0 lead in a best of 7 series move on to the next round 86.7% of the time. There is still hope for Minnesota but that light at the end of the tunnel quite possibly is an oncoming Chicago El’ Train.
The Wild caught a break on an early goal by Patrick Kane. A video review confirmed the ref’s initial call that the puck was kicked into the net at the 4:52 mark of the 1st period. Chicago would take the lead for good just under minutes later on Frolik’s first goal of the night. Another theme to this game was the Wild’s continued ability to come incredibly close to scoring without actually doing so. Minnesota was held to just 7 shots in the first period and had several additional great scoring chances, but in what has been a theme all season long no goals were produced. So far in two Stanley Cup Quarterfinal playoff games the Wild have allowed an average of 3.50 goals per game while posting a scoring average of just 1.50. That kind of offensive production makes wins darn hard to come by. Some frustration is starting to show up in individual play as well. Minnesota accumulated just 10 total penalty minutes tonight on 5 minor penalties. Three of those infractions belonged to Wild Captain Mikko Koivu. He was whistled for a roughing minor in the 1st period on the Blackhawks Andrew Shaw. Mikko was sent to the box twice in the third, once for hooking and once for a tripping call, both on Chicago Captain Jonathon Toews. Minnesota’s top line was once again notably absent on the score sheet, posting only a single assist by Charlie Coyle who was also a -1 for the game as well. Koivu and Zach Parise were held scoreless and both were a -3 on the night. Those were the worst +/- ratings for any Wild player. As a whole Minnes0ota’s 4 forward lines totaled 5 points from 4 players for the entire game. Limited production to say the least. At the conclusion of the 1st period the Wild trailed 1-0 and were outshot 17 to 7.
The second period opened about as well as the 1st for the Wild, with Parise feeding Koivu in front of Blackhawks goal just 18 seconds into the 2nd stanza. The result was the same, as Koivu’s scoring attempts were stopped cold. Chicago’s Frolik would score his second of the game just 16 seconds later. The Wild would then come up empty on a pair of power plays and a stretch in which they ran off 7 straight shots on goal before finally breaking through and getting on the scoreboard at the 17:57 mark. Devin Setoguchi took a nice feed from Pierre-Marc Bouchard and beat Crawford with a nice wrist shot, bring the wild to within a goal. Setoguchi was playing his 50th playoff game and the goal was his 15th among 25 total playoff points. Rookie Jason Zucker also recorded his first playoff point with a helper on Seto’s goal. The goal stood out for Minnesota because there were so few Wild highlights to choose from. The 2nd would be Minnesota’s best period of the night with 2 power plays, 15 shots, and 1 goal scored. It was down hill from there for the boys from St. Paul.
In the 3rd period Patrick Sharp would restore the Blackhawks’ two goal lead a little over 3 and a half minutes in, then up that lead to 4-1 at the 14 minute mark. The second goal by Sharp featured a 360, spin-o-rama feed from Kane that drew Wild net minder Harding to the right side of the net, leaving Sharp a gaping 4 by 6 opening to flick the puck in for the score. Defenseman Marco Scandella would score on a shot from the top of the left circle that beat a screened Crawford. Josh Harding made a valiant effort Friday night stopping 43 of the 47 shots he faced. The final Chicago goal came with Harding pulled for an extra attacker late in the 3rd period. Harding’s 43 saves tied a Wild playoff record for most saves in regulation. This loss is clearly a step backward from where the team was just three nights ago. No Wild player had what could be construed as a good game. Captain Koivu had one of his worst that I can remember. His stat line reads 0 goals, 0 assists, 2 shots, -3 rating, and 3 minor penalties for 6 minutes total. OUCH! The Blackhawks came out hard and fast tonight while the Wild simply did not. Chicago is now 27-2-1 when scoring first this season. Minnesota was unable to take control of the action, allowing Chicago to dictate the pace of play from the opening face off and for the majority of the game. The Wild have also been unable to win the special teams battles. They are now 0 for 6 on the power play with 1 short handed goal allowed so far in the series. The Wild have also killed off 5 of 7 penalties against for an 85.7% penalty kill rate. Another area Minnesota has struggled uncharacteristically with is face offs.They ranked 3rd in the league for the regular season winning 52.4 % Through two playoff games they have dropped to 48.2%. Face off wins lead directly to puck possession time, another area suffering so far in the series.
Hopefully the Wild can right the ship as they return to St. Paul for two games, Sunday and Tuesday, at the Xcel Energy Center. Simply put, win or clean out your lockers on Wednesday and we’ll see you in the fall. At times in this series the Blackhawks have looked like a cat toying with a mouse, playing with it, letting it win it’s freedom temporarily then grabbing it again until it tires of the game and rips the mouse’s head off. I refuse to believe the Wild are incapable of beating the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday or Tuesday. They have the talent, mindset, work ethic and spirit to get the job done. Perhaps the “Team Of 18000″ is what the Minnesota Wild need to put them over the top. GonePuckWild.com will be with you each step of the way as the Wild “Fight To The End” of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s been 5 long season since playoff hockey has been at the “X”. Puck Drop is scheduled for 3:00 pm Sunday and in a late start Tuesday, 8:30 pm. Both times are Minnesota time or CST.