With the Hawks now up two games to nothing in this best of seven series with the Wild, the series shifts up to St. Paul tonight for Game 3. The Blackhawks are coming off of what was arguably their best performance in a long time in Game 2, while Minnesota seems to be searching for answers. Wild head coach Mike Yeo was quoted as saying “I don’t know what team played that game tonight, but it wasn’t us,” following their Game 2 loss. All signs would indicate that the Hawks have the Wild backed into a corner and are ready to deliver the death blow. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Minnesota knows that they cannot afford to lose Game 3, or Game 4 for that matter. Falling behind 3-0 or 3-1 in a best of seven series is a recipe for elimination, especially against a team like the Blackhawks who know how to close out a series better than anyone.
So what should the Hawks expect tonight? I’ll tell you.
First and foremost, they should expect a deafening arena. The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul is one of the loudest buildings in the league. Add in the fact that those fans haven’t seen their team play on home ice since eliminating the Blues, and that the Wild need a victory tonight, and you’ve got yourself one amped up fan base ready to wreck havoc on the Blackhawks.
Secondly, the Blackhawks should expect Minnesota’s best effort of the season. They realize that they cannot afford another loss tonight, and they will do whatever it takes to ensure a victory. From the Wild’s perspective, they can’t let themselves get too over-hyped and try to do too much on the ice, causing them to make bad decisions or end up out of position. This whole “energy” factor could be a good or bad thing for the Wild, depending on how they use it.
To get a victory in tonight’s game and put a stranglehold on this series, here’s what the Blackhawks must do:
- Survive the first ten minutes. The first ten minutes of this game will feature incredible noise coming from the fans and a Minnesota team that is jacked up on adrenaline. Needless to say, the Wild will come out flying. The Hawks need to stay calm and collected, play solid defense, and come out of the first ten minutes of the game either tied or ahead on the scoreboard.
- Get the first goal. This one kind goes along with the first bullet point, and is just as important. If the Hawks can record the first goal of the game, that will not only provide them with energy and momentum, but it will plant a seed of doubt into the heads of the Wild players and fans. Taking the fans out of the game early would be huge. Also, it’s much nicer playing with the lead than it is trying to catch up all game.
- Remember Game 2. Playing Game 3 like they did Game 2 can only yield positive results for the Hawks. Granted, they may even need to dial it up a notch from Game 2, but if they can do that they’ll win. When the Blackhawks dictate games like they did in the second game of this series, there’s not a team in hockey that can beat them.
- Receive another good outing from Crawford. In a game like this on the road against a team who knows they cannot afford lose, the Blackhawks need Corey Crawford to be their best player, or at least one of them. Minnesota will have their fair chances at scoring tonight, and the only way the Hawks overcome that is if Crawford comes up with some big time saves. Getting help from the defense in front of him like he did in Game 2 wouldn’t hurt either.
- The Hawks’ stars need to shine again. It’s been a common theme for the Blackhawks this postseason: their best players have been their best players. That can’t change in a game like this. Again, the atmosphere will be hostile, and the Wild are going to throw everything they’ve got at the Hawks. The star players for Chicago need to step up yet again and make the big plays. This doesn’t mean that the Hawks’ bottom two lines don’t mean anything tonight, because they certainly do. Speaking of them…
- Roll four lines. Since adding Vermette back into the lineup, it has allowed Shaw to move down to the fourth line and play his natural position on the wing. That made the Hawks’ fourth line much more formidable and dangerous, and it’s paid off big time. Also, reinserting Teravainen into the lineup in Game 1 of this series and on the third line with Sharp and Vermette has lead to some great chemistry between the trio. They essentially have three top two-esque line now. My point here is that the Hawks have incredible forward depth, and they need all four line to continue being productive tonight.
One thing that I didn’t mention, which is somewhat of a given, is that the Blackhawks six defensemen need to be on their game. They’ll continue using basically five d-men, with Timonen receiving limited minutes, and they all need to have their heads in the game. This means no dumb plays or penalties from Rozsival. I singled him out because, well, he’s really the only regular that I’m consistently worried about.
As you may have gathered, Xcel Energy Center is going to be very loud and unkind to the Blackhawks tonight, and the Wild players are going to leave it all on the ice. The Hawks must try and replicate they way the played in Game 2, as well as step it up another level.
This is going to be one of the toughest tests for the Hawks this postseason, and I’m very anxious to see how they respond. Then again, they are the Blackhawks, and they never cease to amaze any of us.