GAMETIME: 8:10pm Central
TV/RADIO: CNBC, 87.7 FM
BEYOND THE WALL: Hockey Wilderness
The Hawks find themselves in a position they’ve been most comfortable, holding the axe to end the season for an opponent. It’s a stat we keep coming back to, probably because it is pretty damn comforting: The Hawks are 11-2 in the Quenneville Era when they have a chance to end a series, with both losses coming to Vancouver (one a Game 7 on the road). To quote one of the great orators of our time, Ice Cube, “The Hawks don’t miss when it comes to this.”
The big question heading into this one is what the Hawks will face from Mike Yeo’s charges. He has varied it from game to game, and period to period, so what you see in the 1st tonight might not be what you get in the 2nd or 3rd.
When the Hawks first went up to St. Paul in Game 3, they expected an unhinged forecheck with frothing-at-the-mouth forwards and were basically looking to ride it out until things calmed down. What they got was a 1-2-2 trap that they just never came to terms with. It’s also what they saw in Game 5. Because it worked so well, you would be justified in thinking that’s what they’ll get again.
However, this time around it won’t be new. Second, the Hawks got a handle on it in Game 5 after the first 10 minutes or so. They are the Borg and they have adapted (warning: there’s a fuckton of nerd references in this). Based on those two things, I’m leaning toward saying that the Wild will come out charged and rabid tonight. They’ll be sending two guys below the goal line, as well as having their d-men pinch down on the Hawks forwards along the boards (the “Predator Method”, you could call it). Considering how yippy the Swedes have been with the puck, and Nick Leddy, it could be an adventure. Leddy has been afraid to use his wheels since being scratched, but whether the Wild trap or not they’re vital. If Leddy can lose guys behind the net the middle of the zone should be open for him to streak through and get out. This is what Duncan Keith does, and will do tonight.
For everyone else, trying to go around the wall is going to be a great way to get into trouble. Any forward supporting his d-man is going to have Suter or Brodin or Scandella right on his back and is going to have to win that battle to avoid turnovers. What the Hawks need is that quick, 8-10 foot pass into the middle that Hjalmarsson has specialized in the past two seasons. A forward has to be there to provide that option, because the Wild can’t cover everything and if they do they’re going to be looking at odd-man rushes going the other way all night and that will certainly see them to the gallows after 60 minutes.
As for the lineup, the Hawks at the morning skate rolled out the lines that finished Game 5, with a loaded-up top line of 10-19-81. Kane and Saad will attempt to drag Handzus’s carcass around the ice, with Regin centering Bickell and Versteeg and Nordstrom-Kruger-Smith in what looks to be the Human Shield line. Do not expect it to finish this way.
Because at home, Yeo has paired Suter and Brodin where he has split them up on the road. You know they’ll be out against Toews’s line, and probably against Kane too as Yeo is assuredly going to push the pedal to the floor and have Suter out for half an hour at least. He’ll also get Koivu out against Toews, and he’s provided Captain Marvel damn near a migraine in that matchup. Which leaves Zus chasing either Granlund or Haula and you throwing up into your lap. Don’t be shocked if Smith ends up between Kane and Saad, or between Sharp and Hossa with Toews flanked by 88 and The General. It’s going to get awfully chess-y tonight you can be sure.
For the Wild, an interesting note is that Darcy Kuemper is healthy enough to back up Bryzgalov. Which means Bryzgalov is going to get one boner or two quick goals before he gets the Muppet hook. Yeo is probably already eying the charge in the building and bench that Kuemper’s introduction would provide, and I think it’s 50-50 we see it if the Hawks can put Bryz under far more pressure than they have the last three. With the Wild coming out in a blitz package, they should be able to.
This has been a much harder series than most of us imagined, myself included. The Wild have been a force at home, with all their big players upping their games with more favorable matchups and the home support. But as we said after Game 5, give the Hawks more and more looks in a series and they eventually come to terms with what needs to be done. They’ve specialized in “just enough” this season, though you could label that “efficiency.” Just enough now is just one road win, which is exactly what it was last series. And they got that.
To the cliffs.