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Blackhawks Wed May 14 2014
So much for that easy series against the Minnesota Wild in round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Admit it, you were just as nervous Tuesday night for Game 6 as you were last year in that epic series against the Red Wings.
The entire Blackhawks squad would be the first to tell you they dodged a few bullets in this series, that Corey Crawford is 90 percent of the reason they've made it to the Western Conference Finals for the third time in five years, and that a few lucky breaks went their way, including Patrick Kane's overtime game winner, the fourth in his career. Nevertheless, good teams always seem to find a way to win despite being overworked along the boards and being blocked on every single shot in sight.
If Mike Yeo's squad can continue to work that extra gear discovered in the Colorado Avalanche series, you can forget worrying about the Blues in the Central. It'll be the Wild that will haunt your dreams.
The 2-1 OT final proved every bit as thrilling and frustrating to watch as the Wild continued to choke the Hawks offensively. After the second period, the Hawks only had 16 shots on goal -- eight in the first, eight in the second -- while only managing six total shots in the third period. Meanwhile, the Wild continued to collect key shot deflections to maintain possession, which translated to 35 total shots on goal against Crawford.
At one point in the first period, just after Kris Versteeg scored the first goal of the game, the Hawks seemed to dial it up on offense with a high-energy rush at Ilya Bryzgalov. It was looking like the Hawks were finally going to run Izzy out of the net and cruise to a win. It was at that point the Wild took over and never looked back in terms of possession (a 56.7 percent CORSI-for should translate to a win).
It was night and day, comparing the Hawks' first period to the rest of the game. The Fenwick chart (shots for) below, compliments of Extra Skater, tells the whole story.
If there's one thing the Hawks will (and should) take from this series it's how to beat a zone that pinches them along the boards and minimizes anything that comes up the middle of the ice. Not to mention how to break apart a defense that hovers around the net and scoops most everything up in sight by way of blocking shots.
The big difference between the Hawks winning the series against Minnesota versus the Avs losing theirs is based solely on the team's ability to readjust and counter-attack with the pieces of talent along the bench. Joel Quenneville mixed up his lines so many times after Game 3 that you'd need an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it.
There was a time in this series when Marian Hossa was put on the third line, just to evenly parse out the scoring chances. Maybe it made coach Yeo overthink things, maybe not. Regardless, the Hawks found ways to collect rebounds in front of the net and, ultimately, that's what helped them close out this series.
What to expect next remains to be seen. The Kings and Ducks are battling in their Game 6 tonight in Los Angeles, with the Ducks up three games to two. Either way, no matter how tough the next series will be for the Hawks, it'll be a breath of fresh air to not have to play the Wild again until next season.