The Minnesota Wild fell 5-2 to the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night. The outcome wasn’t surprising to many, but the score certainly wasn’t indicative of how the game was played. Not only was Chicago a little upset and surprised with how the game was played, but NBC Sports analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones couldn’t help singing Minnesota’s praises on national television.
Simply put, if you are a Wild fan, there’s a lot to feel good about from Game One. If you’re a player on the other hand, there’s a lot still that needs to be done. Minnesota played a solid, no-quit game, and Chicago clearly wasn’t happy about it. This isn’t the team the Blackhawks easily defeated last season, but the Wild still has a lot of work to do to defeat the defending champs.
Though the Wild outshot Chicago 32-22, an uncharacteristically weak defensive showing enabled the opportunistic Blackhawks forwards to gain momentum and put the game away late in the game. Patrick Kane’s first goal of the night was nigh indefensible, sure, but there’s just no excuse on his second goal with less than four minutes to go in the game. Minnesota defenseman Nate Prosser plants himself with Marco Scandella to the front left-center of Ilya Bryzgalov to block a Patrick Sharp shot, leaving Bryz defenseless for Kane, the eventual goal scorer. That was just a boneheaded move.
Minnesota did prove they can keep up with the Blackhawks, but that’s just the point–it’s time they make Chicago keep up with them. It all starts with winning face-offs. From there, it’s easier to dictate the flow of the game. The Wild can’t get in a foot race with Chicago, it’s a battle they just can’t win. Win face-offs, maintain possession of the puck, establish a hard fore check and back check. Keep the Blackhawks fighting for the puck. Most importantly, keep firing pucks on net. Sooner or later, that hard work will pay off.
Chicago isn’t as good of a team as it was last season, and the Wild are definitely a better team than their 2012-13 counterparts. Going into Friday night, it was known the outcome of the game would probably not be a good indicator of how the series is going to play out. Chicago is hoping that’s the case, because they could be in for a long, difficult road otherwise. We’ll see how Game Two plays out shortly.