The Minnesota Wild pulled off an impressive Game 7 victory over the Colorado Avalanche this past Wednesday. It seemed every time you felt you could officially count them out, the Wild jumped right back into the game with a tying goal. Eventually scoring the winner in overtime, Minnesota advanced past the conference quarterfinals for the first time since 2003.
However, the celebration may be short-lived. The Wild are heading to the Windy City tonight to take on the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, and it certainly looks like Minnesota has their work cut out for them. One of the biggest reasons for this is pretty simple: the Blackhawks are scoring a lot, and the Wild have a big question mark in net.
Chicago comes into this series having scored 14 goals in their last four games, all wins against the St. Louis Blues. Superstars Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith are all heating up at the right time. The Blackhawks absolutely abused Blues goalie Ryan Miller, especially in the final game of the series when they poured on five goals.
Say what you want about Miller, he’s markedly better than what Minnesota is working with at the moment.
The Wild have been dealing with a rotating door of goalies all season. It’s nothing they haven’t prepped for, and it certainly didn’t change in the postseason. Minnesota started the series out with deadline-pickup and league cast-off Ilya Bryzgalov in net. Though he had played well in the final stretch of the regular season, he struggled mightily against Colorado. Darcy Kuemper came in as a replacement in Game 3 and performed admirably, but he was injured in Game 7, forcing the Wild to put Bryzgalov back out there. He didn’t allow a goal (he only faced one shot, mind you), but still boasts a 4.26 GAA this postseason.
The question isn’t whether or not he can hold strong in the final minutes of a game, but whether he can withstand the high-powered attack of the Blackhawks. History shows Bryzgalov buckles come postseason, and Chicago is hardly the team he’ll want to do that against. If the Blackhawks look any bit as dangerous as they did at the end of their series against St. Louis, Minnesota could be in big trouble.
More importantly for the Blackhawks is the fact that their netminder, Corey Crawford, looks like he’s settling into his old playoff form. He only allowed six goals in Chicago’s wins against the Blues, looking very sharp at times. His 1.98 GAA and .935 save percentage are light-years beyond Bryzgalov’s stats. If Crawford stays on his game, these games have the potential to get lopsided.
If the Wild want to surpass the odds that currently stack against them, they’ll need to give their goalie – however many play this series – all the help he can get. The defense has to be locked in and cutting off shot attempts every chance they get. Angles have to be denied, and the Blackhawks star players need to be monitored at all times.
Even if they succeed at this, will it be enough to stop a Chicago team looking every bit as intimidating as they did during their Cup run last year? We’ll certainly find out soon enough. On paper, though, the talent presented by the Blackhawks certainly looks like the worst thing you want to see if you’re a Minnesota team relying on Bryzgalov to keep you in the game.