The Minnesota Wild return home for Game 3 tonight looking to cut into Chicago's 2-0 series lead. This is familiar terrain for the Wild, who faced the same deficit in the first round before taking four of the next five to eliminate the Avalanche.
The defending Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks, though, are not the Avs. They're deeper, more mature and fully battle tested...and they know how to apply the boot when given a chance.
Here are a few thoughts ahead of tonight's contest (9 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS2).
• It'll be interesting to see if, and how, coach Mike Yeo plays the match-up game now that he owns the last change. His counterpart, Joel Quenneville, was able to neutralize the Wild's top threats by matching Jonathan Toews' line against Mikael Granlund, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle in Games 1 and 2. The pressure is on that group to spark Minnesota's revival, so it'll be up to Yeo to get them away from Toews and his smothering three-zone defensive cloak. Look for lots of quick changes and short shifts from the Wild if he decides to go that route.
• For what it's worth: Minnesota is 3-0 at Xcel in these playoffs, outscoring the opposition 8-3.
• It goes without saying that the Wild need to get more shots on Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford. They came out of the gate flat in the first period of Game 2, testing him just twice, then scrounged up only four chances with the contest on the line in the third. Credit the Hawks for a masterful job of shutting down the shooting lanes. They blocked 25 shots while allowing only 19 to get to Crawford, but where they really stymied the Wild was with their elimination of second and third chances. The Wild generated only three multi-shot sequences in the game and failed to score on any of them. Chicago's defense won't give them anything--they'll have to earn those opportunities tonight with smarter zone entries and a consistent net presence.
• It's certainly not Ilya Bryzgalov's fault that the Wild are in this hole, but the iconoclastic netminder hasn't done enough during the first two games to help Minnesota win, either. He has a 1-4-1 record with a 3.90 GAA and a miserable .830 save percentage in five playoff appearances, and has coughed up seven goals on only 42 shots in this series. At this point, though, numbers and percentages are meaningless. If the Wild are going to survive, they just need someone to allow one fewer goal than the other guy. With Darcy Kuemper still nursing the injury he suffered in Game 7 of the first-round series against Colorado, Bryz is their only hope.
• No Andrew Shaw tonight for the Hawks. Quenneville said the feisty winger, who missed Game 2 with a lower body injury suffered in the opener, might be able to play in Game 4 on Friday.
• Interesting that Bryan Bickell seems to be getting a pass for his lousy regular season now that he's lighting it up in the playoffs. So why doesn't Crawford get the same break? After stumbling through the preliminary 82 matches, he's been dynamite. His 1.87 GAA and .936 save percentage are second only to Vezina favorite Tuukka Rask (1.71/.939) among postseason starters. And he's been a brick wall on the penalty kill, posting a .962 save percentage that's second only to Steve Mason (who can thank the bumbling Rangers' power play for his 1.000 mark).
• Crawford's problem might be that he's seen as having dodged a few bullets along the way. He definitely got the bounces he needed in the third period of Game 2 when he was beaten by Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and Dany Heatley only to have the puck slide harmlessly out of danger. But for every one of those heart-in-throat moments there was another like the play that saw Crawford make a tough stop on Parise and then knock the rebound out of midair and on top of the net before it could drop behind him. That willingness to battle goes a long way at this time of year. Crawford has allowed just nine goals over Chicago's six-game winning streak. More important, he's coming up with big stops like that one at the key moments. That's not just good enough. That's great. It's time the hockey world recognized that.