The Minnesota Wild is in an eerily familiar position. After dropping the first two games on the road, the Wild are returning home with their backs against the wall to play a pair of games that are basically must-wins.
So far in the Central Division championship series, the Blackhawks have hardly had to break a sweat. The defending champs have stomped the Wild by back-to-back three goal margins and controlled nearly all aspects of the games. If the Wild are going to come back as it did against the Avalanche, the team will need to follow a different formula than it has thus far.
Be more physical
This is far easier said than done against the Chicago Blackhawks, but it isn’t impossible. Players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are excellent at absorbing hits without letting it affect their game. If the Wild can’t play at the same speed as the Blackhawks, it can certainly try to slow them down like it did Nathan MacKinnon and the Avalanche.
Through two games, Clayton Stoner has been a pleasant surprise with his consistent physical play and more players need to follow his lead.
Shoot, crash the net, repeat
In two games, the Wild have made Corey Crawford look like the second-coming of Ed Belfour. Is Crawford the better goalie in this series? Absolutely. But he is beatable if you lay the pucks on him with screens and get in his face.
As Mike Myers’ character Donnie Shulzhoffer put it in the movie Mystery, Alaska, “If you don’t play this game with a big heart and a big bag of knuckles in front of the net, you don’t got dinky-doo.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Also, shooting the puck does nothing for a team if it doesn’t hit the net. Far too many shots have missed the target or been blocked by a Blackhawks forward. Find a way to get the puck onto Crawford’s pads and hammer away at the rebounds.
Be aggressive, but be under control
This means the Minnesota Wild need to be aggressive within its system. If the past five years of Blackhawks reign have shown anything, teams are not going to be able to go toe-to-toe with their speed. The Wild need to make sure to have a third forward high at all times while the other two are working the forecheck.
Finally, the defensemen need to be aware that the Blackhawks are always looking for a stretch pass to spring a forward on a breakaway. This has lead to goals galore in recent years for Chicago.
Minnesota has been too passive in its system and is being picked apart by the superior skill of the Blackhawks. There is no chance of winning a series against this team sitting back on their heels and relying on Ilya Bryzgalov to stand on his head, because it isn’t going to happen.
With those three points being made, one more thing needs to be clear. What the Wild’s strategy has been last year and so far this year against the Blackhawks has not worked. Something clearly needs to change.
So here is the last point. What’s the harm in trying a new, higher-octane strategy? It’s pretty obvious at this point that the Chicago Blackhawks are more skilled than the Minnesota Wild. So why not take certain aspects of their game and try to jam it back in their face?
Click here for other Minnesota Wild related articles