Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: NBCSN, SportsNet (Anglo), TVA2 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Blood Makes The Blade Holy: Hockey Wilderness
Mark it 2-9 in road Game 3’s now. On Tuesday night the Hawks won their first road game three since 2010 in the second round against Vancouver, and even in that series it was to take a 2-1 series lead. And now for the first time in the Renaissance Era the Hawks have the opportunity to end a series unblemished on opposition ice.
For Mike Yeo and the Wild, their mindset at this point is certainly up for debate. They threw their biggest punch on home ice in Game 3, territorrially dominated the shot board, and even got the game they needed from Devan Dubnyk, particularly early on before the Hawks began playing prevent against the desperate push in the final period. Kane’s goal is one he’d like to have back, but his stops on Marian Hossa and Teuvo Teravainen from prime scoring real estate, as well as Patrick Sharp’s breakaway more than atoned for it, and one goal against is all his team could have realistically asked out of him. Dubnyk looked more athletic in his crease on Tuesday, making several sprawling saves low, but he’s still receiving pucks high into his chest rather than gloving them.
The Wild finally got drive out of Spurgeon and Scandella, +14 and +11 in shot attempts respectively, and that clearly goes a long way in pressing the Wild attack with those two leading the way in possession. Much of that came at the expense of the fourth line, where again, Yeo was able to hand pick that matchup. Suter and Brodin ended up getting into the black as well just on the sheer volume of ice time, particularly near the end of the game, where Suter played half the third period and four and a half of the final six minutes. Punching bag Jordan Leopold will move out of the lineup in favor of bag-puncher Nate Prosser on the third paring tonight.
In front, as predicted Yeo stuck the Koivu line against Toews, and the two played mostly to a standstill which has to be a net win for the Wild. Parise, Granlund, and Pominville were sent out against the Kruger line and skulled them at evens. Charlie Coyle’s line took on Richards and Kane, and the only line to get consistently submerged was the Wild’s fourth while taking on Vermette, Sharp, and Teuvo. But late word out of Minnesota has Coyle moving up to Koivu’s wing with Kyle Brodziak now centering the third line with Nino and Vanek, which may end up creating a move favorable matchup for the Richards line. Irritant Erik Haula will now pivot the fourth, so the Wild still have options at center as the game unfolds if these matchups don’t work.
The question now becomes whether Mike Yeo completely goes for broke and empties the tank at home, or if he tries to gum things back up and hopes to keep his team alive in an interminable 60 minute slog. Fortunately for him, he has the bodies and the matchups to do either, and has shown a propensity for mixing up his looks. An educated guess says that he’ll send the hordes in the first period in hopes of getting on the board first before laying IEDs in the neutral zone. Which is why the first goal tonight is of utmost importance.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, their previous record in elimination scenarios (one way or the other) would suggest a desire to end the proceedings tonight and forgo a Game 5 on West Madison. But this season has been a different animal, with only a minimal number of fucks given when the situation absolutely dictates it. And while they still hold a three game cushion in the series and the chances of the Wild coming back are slim, every game this goes on more than necessary gives Yeo more opportunity to figure a way to out-scheme the Hawks, leaves them open to any manner of unnecessary injury, and is subject to the compact weirdness that a single hockey game can result in. They took their foot off the gas for a mere four minutes both in game 5 in Nashville and game one at home to start periods and found their asses back in a sling each time. That was particularly the case against Nashville, where they again had to resort to yanking the starting goalie in game 6 before tightening things up. And if there is any way to avoid leaving the outcome of a series to hang on such factors, the Hawks would be well suited to be as efficient tonight as they have been in the past.
Regarding that switch in the net, Corey Crawford finally appears to be regaining his rhythm after three consecutive starts of decreasing goals allowed, and his save percentage has normalized to a wholly respectable .916, which for the record is better than either Vezina finalist in he’s lined up across the ice from. Crawford’s rebound control was exemplary on Tuesday, which becomes a problem for the opportunistic Wild. Because while they are fast and skilled, among the forwards there is very little East-West shot creating ability, and if they’re not able to pick their corners while changing directions and there are no rebounds to be had, the result will often be exactly what happened in Game 3.
With no lineup changes coming for the Hawks tonight, it cannot be reiterated enough that Quenneville cannot hesitate to lean on his top-four defenseman and heavily shelter Rozsival and Timonen. While they have been adequate, as the playoffs begin to wear on fewer and fewer chances can be taken. Neither should be on the ice for a defensive zone draw if Quenneville can at all manage it. And with the opportunity to end this tonight, there will be adequate rest before the next series if the Hawks do what they have to.
The tired old saying is that the fourth one is always the most difficult to get, but it’s a cliche for a reason, particularly when the team on the brink is on their own rink. As was stated above, getting the first goal will be crucial in keeping the Wild from making things tighter than a coat of paint in the neutral zone. The Hawks got lucky on Tuesday in not being able to solve Dubnyk at evens and still coming away with a win. That will absolutely not fly tonight, and they’ll need to find ways to get a volume of shots on net. The only way to do that is to get it out of their own zone quickly without a couple of geriatrics getting swarmed in their own corners. End this. Tonight. Let’s go Hawks.