Minnesota came into this series hoping to change the outcome of a familiar situation. For the third straight year, the Wild faced divisional nemesis Chicago in the postseason, and for the third straight year they lost the first two games of the series. In each of the last two campaigns, Minnesota responded with big Game 3 wins, but on Tuesday night at home, too many squandered chances put the Wild into a yawning 0-3 series hole. When they set out to flip the script this year, this probably wasn’t what they had in mind.
Here we go with three thoughts from the Blackhawks’ 1–0 win in Game 3:
1. Voodoo may be the only explanation for Patrick Kane’s return from injury.
The Blackhawks star found the back of the net for the fourth consecutive game, scoring off of a power play rush in the first period. Calling for the puck as Chicago’s unit rushed into the offensive zone, Kane took a pass from Andrew Shaw and released a quick shot from the right face-off dot that whizzed through the five hole of Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. With goals in four straight games, Kane matched his longest playoff scoring streak, which he set in 2010. Also, with his fourth tally of the series he has scored as many as the Wild combined.
Because he’s so shifty and skilled one-on-one, Kane has been able to avoid the kind of damaging contact that could possibly aggravate his collarbone injury. In nine playoff games so far, he has taken 17 hits, which is rather remarkable given how often the winger has the puck on his stick. He now leads the Blackhawks with 11 points even though he wasn’t projected to play until the next round. As effective as he’s been in this series, the Blackhawks can be considered a Stanley Cup favorite again.
2. Bye, Blackhawks goalie controversy.
Corey Crawford played a confidence-building game. Making 30 saves, including 10 in the third period, he earned his fourth career postseason shutout and quieted the echoes of calls for his backup Scott Darling in the last round. Some of Crawford’s saves were game-changing—a blocker on a Mikael Granlund breakaway, a left toe that just kept the puck from crossing the goal line—the kinds of stops that kept an expectant crowd at the Xcel Energy Center still waiting in the end for something to celebrate. Others were just technically excellent, square to shots and absorbing pucks instead of giving opportunistic scorers like Minnesota winger Zach Parise a chance to change the complexion of the game. Crawford will need to channel this sort of play going forward.
With Anaheim presumably on the horizon with its roster of big bodies and forwards who possess immense skill in tight spaces, Crawford will be tested far more than he has been in this series.
3. Can Minnesota turn its frustration into motivation?
Crawford made some great saves, yes. But the Wild also threw 16 shots wide of Chicago’s net. All four of Jared Spurgeon’s attempts, for instance, missed the net. Of course, shot attempts are good in general, but if it means taking a half second to shoot more accurately, perhaps Minnesota should take it. The Wild should be out to make Crawford, who played well but also has fresh memories of failure, work for every save. And that means establishing a cycle game, making plays down low and getting pucks on net.
Too many of Minnesota’s chances seemed to be clean shots off the rush, pucks that can be easily tracked by the goalie; 21 of their 30 shots on goal came from beyond 20 feet out. The Wild said before the game that they wanted to chip pucks in behind Chicago’s defense, and when they did—early in the game, midway through the second period—Minnesota looked like a dangerous team. Building on those moments will be the only way the Wild extend this series beyond Thursday night’s Game 4.