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Blackhawks Mon May 12 2014
Sometimes it's better talent and a great game plan that works against your opponent in big-game situations. And then sometimes it's the dirty, greasy goals that work out in your favor when everything else fails to make it into the back of the net. That's pretty much how you'd describe the Game 5 performance of the Hawks against the Minnesota Wild.
After pretty much cruising through the first two games of this series; albeit, with some concern with the way the Wild counter-attacked the Hawks' rush, the inevitable occurred up in the Land of 10,000 Lakes when coach Mike Yeo's squad limited the defending Stanley Cup champs to only 19 shots in Game 3 and 20 shots in Game 4 and equalize the series going away. Enter Game 5 and a lot of tension in the air and questions as to how to beat the Wild's ability to limit shots against goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
In games three and four, the Wild were able to push the Hawks up along the boards as a way to prevent passing in the middle of the ice and spreading out the offense -- something at which the Hawks specialize. If you have quickness up and down the ice and are able to make pinpoint passes to the wings, you're able to set up at least a couple of shot attempts each time on a rush.
The Wild disallowed this tactic by forcing the Hawks to the boards and thus minimizing rushes to the net. And when the Hawks were able to get into the Wild's zone, the defense collapses around the net to block pretty much any shot attempt that comes Izzy's way. It's suffocating against the offense, frustrating to take in as a Hawks fan, but in all reality, a masterful thing to watch when done correctly.
The big question for the Hawks coming into Game 5 was whether or not they'd be able to adjust to this traffic jam that is the Wild defense. Once again, Joel Quenneville played with the lines, which included plugging in Kris Versteeg on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell.
Coming into the game, Brandon Bollig was suspended for two games for his hit on Keith Ballard in Game 4, which if you've been watching his performance anyway, not a big loss. Quenneville also looked to move Marian Hossa back up to the second line with Patrick Sharp and Michael Handzus. Then, in the second period, Q put Hossa and Sharp up to the top line with Toews, etc, etc.
The Hawks were able to rattle off 28 shots on goal, which, compared to games three and four, sounds like a complete onslaught. The funny thing is, even despite extremely minimal shots taken from the Hawks, their team-for CORSI is still 3.6 percent higher than Minnesota's at 51.8 percent. This means that the Wild are getting close to the same amount of chances, but are connecting with (mostly) second-chance goals.
So how did the Hawks get the 2-1 win Sunday night to tale a 3-2 series lead? They did it by camping out in front of the net with the Bickell goal that tied it up, and then by sheer hustle at the net when Toews poked in the puck around the crease. The Wild clutter the net around Bryzgalov that resembles a box-and-one defense in basketball: the almost diamond-shaped defense roams with the puck, which could allow for someone offensively to sneak in behind on the weak side for a rebound -- much like Toews' go-ahead game winner last night.
Give credit where credit is due with the Wild. They've created all kinds of headaches for the players and coaching staff by completely choking out and stifling a tremendous offense with great speed. In order for the Hawks to put this one away on Tuesday night in Minnesota, they're going to have to get even uglier down low to prevent a Game 7 back in Chicago.