It’s over folks. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-1 Thursday night, eliminating the Wild from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Chicago takes the series 4 games to 1 and moves on to face either San Jose or Detroit in the second round. The Blackhawks scored once in the 1st and 3 times in the 2nd period to put the game out of reach. Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said, “Very similar game in a lot of ways to game 4. Great start, can’t seem to buy that 1st goal. They(Chicago) grab the lead and we’re still pushing. The 2nd goal seemed to do us in.” Marian Hossa gets credit for the game winner scored at 15:39 of the 1st period. Once again the game started well for the Wild as they came out flying, leading 6-2 in shots early. Corey Crawford was again masterful in net turning aside 21 of 22 Minnesota shots on the night. The Wild had chances tonight as they did all series long, the problem was finishing. In the course of five games during this Stanley Cup quarterfinal series Minnesota scored a total of 7 goals, that’s an average of .71 goals per game. That won’t win too many games let alone series. The other glaring problem in Minnesota’s game was going 0 for 17 on the power play during the series, including 0 for 2 tonight. Every time the Wild seemed poised to grab a power play marker, Corey Crawford‘s arm leg or head got in the way. The rest of the time it was the Chicago penalty killers who were perfect against the Wild. The Blackhawks showed their depth tonight with goals coming from just about every line. Defensively they are deep as well,with three solid pairings. This is a Chicago team that can score on any shift at any time and shut down an opponents top lines again and again. That was demonstrated in this series as Minnesota’s top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle were held to 1 goal and 2 assists in the 5 games. They were also a total of -17 for the series as well. Mikko in particular was shut down by the ‘Hawks going pointless in the series. Tonight, Zach Paries was held without a shot on goal for the 1st time in over 240 games! It wasn’t just the top line, no wild player had more than a single goal in the series, just 7 had multiple points led by Matt Cullen‘s 3 assists. Only two defensemen had points, Marco Scandella had a goal and an assist while Clayton Stoner chipped in with a single assist. No points form Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Tom Gilbert,and Jonas Brodin who combines for 71 points during the regular season. The Wild’s lone goal tonight came from 4th liner Torrey Mitchell midway through the 2nd period making it a 3-1 game. Chicago came right back however, scoring their fourth goal on a shot by Andrew Shaw just 35 seconds later. Chicago would score their 5th, a power play marker, by Patrick Sharp just over 6 minutes into the 3rd period. That goal was Sharps team leading 5th of the series.
Goal tending was a big question heading into tonight’s game. Josh Harding got the start and lasted until the 3rd Chicago goal 6:26 into the 2nd period. That was Hossa’s second of the night and chased Harding from the net. Darcy Kuemper played the remainder giving up two goals on 15 shots. in his post game comments Coach Yeo addressed the goal tending situation saying, “Going into the series, obviously one of the biggest keys was Niklas Backstrom. There’s not too many people who would’ve given us much of a chance if Backy wasn’t great, But Backy went down and Hards stepped in and he did a great job for us.” Backstrom did reveal after the game that he is suffering from a sports hernia and will be undergoing off season surgery to correct it. Harding went 1-4 in the series with a .911 save % and 2.94 goals against average. That goals against is pretty close to the Blackhawks season average of 3.10 goals scored per game. The goal tending situation will continue to be an issue as the Wild head into the off season given the contract and health status of the goalies on the Minnesota team or in the system.
Minnesota Coach Yeo said that while the team and coaching staff “aren’t happy the way it ended,” There were positives to take from this year. Yeo added, “If you really want to look at it properly then there’s been a lot of improvement in our organization and our team and I feel that we’re going in the right direction.” When asked about players performance and their future Yeo said, “We’ll never stop trying to improve our team from a personnel standpoint. You always obviously try to address your weaknesses, but we did improve in that area. We have to get better, there’s no question. Shooting percentage wise there’s some things we can do to improve that too.”
Bottom line for this series is the Minnesota Wild ran into a better team, the best team in the Western Conference and perhaps the NHL. Chicago now moves on to the Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals, the first time they have advanced past the opening round since they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. For the Wild it means time to clean out their lockers and say goodbye’s for the season. For some this was their last game in a Wild uniform, for others the promise of the 2013-14 NHL season awaits. The Wild never gave up, never gave in and fought to the end. That end came sooner than fans and the team wanted but later than 15 other teams in the NHL. I say 15 because the Vancouver Canucks were eliminated a couple of days ago, swept by the San Jose Sharks becoming the 1st playoff team to go home. Over the next few days the GonePuckWild.com staff will review the Minnesota Wild’s season and look ahead to the off season. Until then this is Scott Drain saying, “Thank you Minnesota Wild for an exciting season and as always, Let’s Go Wild!”