2015 NHL Playoffs: Minnesota Wild In Tough Against Chicago Blackhawks In Round 2

By Ryan Skilton
Hawks vs. Wild
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Wild have been on a terrific run since the end of January, and they managed to carry that success into their first-round series against the Central Division-winning St. Louis Blues. However, the Chicago Blackhawks are a whole other animal. Having won two Stanley Cups in the last five years, this Blackhawks team knows what it takes to win in the postseason, and the Wild will need to be on top of their game to topple the boys from the “Windy City.”

Minnesota Wild

Devan Dubnyk has been unstoppable for the past three months, and the Wild are going to need the 28-year-old goaltender to do much of the same in their second-round matchup against Chicago. The Blackhawks have a lot of weapons, and this group knows how to score goals. Dubnyk can expect a flurry of pucks coming his way throughout this series, and he can’t afford to cool off now.

The Wild’s recent success goes beyond Dubnyk, however. Minnesota is a team that prides itself on its depth, particularly up front. With the likes of Mikko Koivu, Jason Zucker, Zach Parise, Thomas Vanek, Nino Niederreiter and Jason Pominville all capable of putting the puck in the net, defenders are in for a tough night when they play the Wild. Minnesota must have all four lines chipping in on the scoreboard if they’re going to outscore an opponent defined by depth and scoring prowess.

One of the concerns for Minnesota heading into this series is their possession woes. In the first round, the Wild were thoroughly outplayed, only managing to control the puck 43.7 percent of the time at even strength (worst ranked team in the playoffs). The Marco ScandellaJared Spurgeon defensive pairing did an excellent job shutting down opponents and driving possession, but the rest of the back end struggled to do the same in Round 1. The second line of Koivu, Zucker and Chris Stewart also had a difficult time, collectively giving up the most scoring chances (per 60 minutes at even strength) out of the four forward lines.

The team relied on timely goals (sometimes poor goaltending) and Dubnyk to defeat the Blues, but that might not be enough against the Hawks. The Wild must find a way to clean up their possession problems. If not, they could find themselves cleaning out their lockers in a hurry.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks defeated a very good Nashville Predators team in the first round, and they’re going to need to do it again against the Wild. Much like the Predators, Minnesota is riding a streaky goaltender who seems to be destined to carry his team all the way. If there’s one team that can bring Dubnyk back down to earth, however, it’s Chicago.

It’s no secret the Blackhawks are built to contend. Led by captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, Chicago is loaded with talent up front. With so much depth, coach Joel Quenneville has the luxury of running four lines with ease. The Hawks’ ability to move the puck up the ice quickly and drive possession — controlled the puck 52.5 percent of the time against the Predators — only begin to scratch the surface of why they’re built to contend year after year.

Similar to the Wild, the Blackhawks also have their share of possession troubles. Chicago’s second trio is not exactly known for its defensive ability. Despite being heavily sheltered in the offensive zone against moderately easy competition, Kane, Brad Richards and Bryan Bickell allow the most scoring chances (per 60 minutes at even strength) out of the Hawks’ forward lines. Luckily for Chicago, they have two reliable shutdown defensemen on the back end in Duncan Keith and Michal Roszival to offset the second line’s trials at even strength.

Lastly, Scott Darling — who ironically grew up a Hawks fan in the Chicago area — will need to continue playing how he has been playing. For his first playoff stint, the rookie goaltender has looked awfully impressive, and, as with most teams, it will be crucial he doesn’t let up any bad goals that could ultimately make the difference between winning and losing. This also doesn’t rule out the possibility that Corey Crawford gets the nod for Game 1, given his series-clinching performance in Game 6.

The Blackhawks did have their share of bumps in the road in the first round, but overall, they proved why they’re a force to be reckoned with. If Chicago sticks to their game — uses their speed and transition to their advantage — and gets to Dubnyk early and often, they shouldn’t have a problem moving on to the Western Conference Finals.

Prediction

The Wild have a tremendous amount of depth, and Dubnyk looks like one of the best goaltenders in the world right now, but they could not have drawn a worse second-round matchup. The Hawks are built to win, know what it takes to win, and get the job done when it matters most. If Dubnyk stands on his head like he has the last few months, Minnesota will advance; but if the Wild goaltender is one shade of average, Chicago will pounce and send Minnesota packing.

Series Prediction: Hawks win in six games.

Projected Lineups

Minnesota Wild

LW C RW
Zach Parise
Zach Parise
Mikael Granlund
Mikael Granlund
Jason Pominville
Jason Pominville
Jason Zucker
Jason Zucker
Mikko Koivu
Mikko Koivu
Chris Stewart
Chris Stewart
Thomas Vanek
Thomas Vanek
Charlie Coyle
Charlie Coyle
Nino Niederreiter
Nino Niederreiter
Matt Cooke
Matt Cooke
Kyle Brodziak
Kyle Brodziak
Justin Fontaine
Justin Fontaine
Defensive Pairings
Ryan Suter
Ryan Suter
Jonas Brodin
Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella
Marco Scandella
Jared Spurgeon
Jared Spurgeon
Jordan Leopold
Jordan Leopold
Mathew Dumba
Mathew Dumba
Goalies
Devan Dubnyk
Devan Dubnyk
Darcy Kuemper
Darcy Kuemper

Chicago Blackhawks

LW C RW
Brandon Saad
Brandon Saad
Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews
Marian Hossa
Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell
Bryan Bickell
Brad Richards
Brad Richards
Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp
Patrick Sharp
Antoine Vermette
Antoine Vermette
Teuvo Teravainen
Teuvo Teravainen
Andrew Desjardins
Andrew Desjardins
Marcus Kruger
Marcus Kruger
Andrew Shaw
Andrew Shaw
Defensive Pairings
Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith
Michal Rozsival
Michal Rozsival
Kimmo Timonen
Kimmo Timonen
Brent Seabrook
Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson
Niklas Hjalmarsson
Johnny Oduya
Johnny Oduya
Goalies
Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford
Scott Darling
Scott Darling

Photo courtesy dailyfaceoff.com

Ryan is an NHL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @rtskilton.

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