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Blackhawks Thu May 01 2014
After coming back from two games to none against the St. Louis Blues, the Hawks had a little time to kill before finding out its next opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs. During this stretch, the Minnesota Wild played a little catch-up of their own against the Colorado Avalanche, evening out an 0-2 hole and then winning games six and seven to take the series.
After a thrilling three periods in the Pepsi Center Wednesday evening, the Wild and Avs took it to overtime, and that's when Nino Niederreiter fired a wrister past Semyon Varlamov to bury the Avs. So, instead of the Hawks traveling to Colorado for Game 1 of the second round, it'll be the Wild packing their bags and flying into O'Hare to start the series. Time to look at what lies ahead and how the Hawks should take this series.
With that said, the Wild certainly shouldn't be taken lightly. Just because the Hawks took care of business, quite handily, in last year's first round, this is a team that has improved since. They were able to run with a fast team in the Avs, and the Hawks possess pretty much the same speed -- granted, perhaps a little more talented than Colorado, but still just as quick.
The series schedule has been set with Game 1 Friday night at the United Center. The rest of the schedule breaks down like this, via the team's site (Blackhawks.NHL.com).
The Wild took the regular-season series against the Hawks, going 3-1-1. In fact, the only game the Hawks won in regulation was in Minnesota, the back-half of a home, at home series in late-October, by the final of 5-1. Niklas Backstrom was in between the pipes for the Wild back then, but it was Ilya Bryzgalov who started the playoffs as the main net minder for the Wild. But then after a Game 2 switch, Darcy Kuemper became the main man, only to then relinquish the spot back to Bryzgalov to close things out. Yes, it sounds like a bad soap opera with rotating relationships, so please stay tuned.
Hawks fans might remember Kuemper from last year's first-round matchup against the Wild when he came in to spell Josh Harding in the third period of Game 4. Hawks fans might also recognize the names of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, who played for Team USA; Miko Koivu and Mikael Granlund, who played for Team Finland; and Niederreiter, who played for Team Switzerland during the Winter Games in Sochi this past winter. Parise and Koivu lead the team in scoring for the Wild this postseason with 10 and six points respectively.
During these playoffs, the Wild are seventh in scoring (3.14 goals per game) and seventh in goals against (2.86 per game), while the Hawks are fifth in goals for (3.33 per game) and third in goals against (2.33 per game). If the scoring numbers aren't able to tell a complete tale, what coach Joel Quenneville and company should be paying attention to is the Wild's ability to possess the puck.
According to ExtraSkater.com (@ExtraSkater on Twitter) the Wild lead every team in the postseason (after seven games) in team Fenwick possession at 61.3 percent. A Fenwick chart measures the amount of shots for your team, made or missed, against the amount of shots taken against your team. So think of it in terms of Algebra class your freshman year of high school:
F = (Shots For + Missed Shots For) - (Shots Against - Missed Shots Against)
The Wild also lead the playoffs in team CORSI-for percentage at 59.8 percent. CORSI is similar to Fenwick, but also takes into account scoring opportunities, which really is an even more telling stat of what the Wild did against Colorado during those seven games -- the Avs were dead last in team CORSI-for at 40.2 percent amongst all playoff teams.
So we can see the Wild like to control the puck and take calculated shots, even if it means blocked attempts. The Hawks will need to clamp down on defense and do a much better job clearing the defensive zone, unlike what they did the first handful of games against the Blues, if they're going to limit shots on Corey Crawford.
Speaking of goalies, in breaking down Kuemper, it's important to look at each of the goals he's let up, which, while at times minimal, were all over the place against the Avs. His first game in Game 2, he stopped all 14 shots he faced in relief of Bryzgalov. In Game 3, Kuemper stopped all 22 shots he faced and got the shutout to help his team back into the series.
The lone goal Kuemper gave up in Game 4 was to Ryan O'Reilly, a soft slapshot that snuck through. The only Kuemper loss against Colorado came in Game 5 when the Avs were able to get four goals past him and get an overtime win.
In Game 6, Kuemper settled down and got the 5-2 win after stopping 21 of 23 shots. But it was late in Game 7 where he was pulled for Bryzgalov, due to an apparent injury. While in the game, he allowed four goals off of 21 shots -- not a great game by any means. There's no word on whether Kuemper will dress for Friday night's opener at the United Center, but if he does, the goal chart on him versus the Avs shows he's vulnerable in all areas in the net.
So unlike Crawford and his "notoriously" weak glove-side, Kuemper at least gives the Hawks all kinds of options for scoring, especially stick-side.
The Hawks should roll through this series to then either have a rematch against the Kings for the Western Conference title or an epic matchup against the Ducks. They just need to continue to play better puck possession against a team that has specialized in it, just like they did to close out the Blues.