|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2014||[Print without images]|
CHICAGO -- They've been beat in these playoffs by incredible individual efforts before. Such as Nathan MacKinnon's bursting into the offensive zone and finding a teammate for a goal, or Paul Stastny's finding a way to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment. And they still survived.
The Minnesota Wild aren't one of those teams that is going to blow you over with other-worldly skill. There are many words you could use to describe them -- "showtime" isn't one of them.
In Game 1 against the Blackhawks, like it did in Game 1 of the first round, skill won out against the Wild. This time it was in the form of Patrick Kane's roofing a backhand to break a tie and then clinching it with another goal eight minutes later. The Blackhawks finished with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals.
And yet, there wasn't a feeling in the Wild dressing room that this was some kind of huge missed opportunity. That the Blackhawks absorbed their best shot and still managed to win by three goals.
Instead, there was an appreciation for the play Kane made, a realization they've got to be better moving forward but that there were enough positives to build on moving forward.
"[Kane] made an unbelievable shot to get it up," said Wild forward Jason Pominville "Even his little juke-and-jive at the blue line -- he fake-dropped it to [Patrick] Sharp and was able to get it around. ... Kane just made a great play."
|Ilya Bryzgalov allowed four goals on 21 shots in Friday's Game 1.|
Until that Kane goal, the Wild were starting to impose their almost monotonous possession game that ultimately wore down the Avalanche despite Colorado's occasional breath-taking, highlight-reel moments.
In the second period, the Wild outshot the Blackhawks 17-3. Early in the third, they scored twice to erase the two power-play goals Chicago scored to open a 2-0 lead. This was starting to look like the Minnesota team that imposed itself against the Avalanche last series, and it was even more impressive because the Blackhawks are the defending champs, not some young playoff upstart.
"We're at our best when we hold on to the puck in the offensive zone, get our D up in the play, get our D involved and kind of hem them in," defenseman Ryan Suter told ESPN The Magazine afterward. "That's when we're at our best. That's what we were able to do."
That they were able to do it against the Blackhawks was impressive because this Chicago team is shaping itself into one very capable of becoming the first repeat champ in the lockout era and winning its third Cup in five seasons.
For a 28-minute stretch, Minnesota found its game that wasn't there in the first period, one outsiders might not have been sure they could even play against the Blackhawks.
"We've been doing it all year -- that's been our thing all year," Suter said. "Just trying to be part of the forecheck. ... The second period, we started to get back to the level of play, the way we were used to playing. The way we need to play."
It wasn't enough. Not when the other side has guys like Kane who can break through and change the course of the game with one play only he can make.
Or when a guy like Jonas Brodin commits two-high stick penalties which leads to two power-play goals.
One of those things is fixable.
"I need to keep the stick on the ice there," Brodin said.
The other is just something the Wild seem resigned to dealing with during this series: Kane is going to get his goals. So is Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. It's why the Blackhawks are favored to win this series and are picking up steam as the team to beat.
But now the Wild know that at even strength, they can control the play. At even strength, Minnesota controlled 63.5 percent of all unblocked shot attempts, and they did it against one of the best teams in the league.
"As far as puck possession and control, I think we did a lot of good things," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "The majority of the time, we were in good position. They're a lot like Colorado in that they're very opportunistic."
If they can cut out the penalties. If they can mix in a power-play goal. If Ilya Bryzgalov can stop the pucks he needs to stop and, maybe at some point, even steal one here or there, this series could be closer than the final score indicated in Game 1.
And even Brodin thought there was a way to prevent Kane from scoring on his ridiculous backhand.
"I have to be better there," he said.
In what way?
"Stay on my feet," he answered.
Kane is going to be Kane, but if the Wild can be the same Wild who kept an even keel and always seemed to find a way to settle back into an effective style of play against the Avalanche regardless of what Colorado's stars did, it could get interesting in this series.
"We feel good about what we did. At the same time, we've got to improve our game," Parise said. "We have to expect that to be a much better team moving forward."