The Minnesota Wild’s final power play of the night expired without any damage done, the Blackhawks wrapping up a successful penalty kill.
The Blackhawks ended the night in that category a lot better than they began it, holding the Wild at bay twice in the third period when they were trying to tie the game.
It was a much-needed boost of confidence to a penalty kill that’s surprisingly struggled for weeks now. And the Blackhawks, who held on to beat the Wild 4-3 in Game 1 on Friday night, will need more of that as this series continues.
“Obviously that pretty good getting those two kills in the third (period),” Marcus Kruger said on Saturday. “We weren't happy with that first goal in the second period, but we regrouped and found a way to get it done there in the third.”
As written prior to this series, the penalty kill hasn’t had many issues the past few seasons. It’s become the team’s strength. But it struggled late in the regular season and in the first round against the Nashville Predators, who got six power-play goals. The Wild power play, which now has five postseason goals including Zach Parise’s second-period score on Friday, provides another challenge.
So what worked on those final two power plays that didn’t work on the first one?
“Their goal was kind of on a broken play. That third period I thought we had better pressure entering the zone, had a couple clears...” coach Joel Quenneville said. “And I think when they get possession they got some different looks. We blocked some shots as well. I think when there was a chance to clear pucks we cleared pucks.”
Clears are critical. There were times in the first round when the Blackhawks’ clearing attempts weren’t working and they resulted in opponents’ power-play goals. Rebounds also accounted for some. Corey Crawford kept them at a minimum on those third-period kills.
Denying the Wild a lot of good entries, another problem the Blackhawks had against the Predators, also helped.
“That's something I think that you talk about all the time,” Johnny Oduya said. “Obviously if you put pressure right in the beginning — on entries, deny entries — they can't set up as easy. It's something you want to do every team kill. Everybody around the league kind of thinks the same way. We need to do a better job. A lot of times when you get the puck out quick, you can change — there are a lot of things that come with that.”
The Blackhawks are taking steps in the right direction on their penalty kill. It used to be one of the steadiest parts of their game. They’ll need it to be again to withstand the Wild.
“It felt pretty good,” Oduya said. “There were a couple shots maybe that went through and Corey made the saves. Even though we let up a couple goals I think we still feel that in times in games when we need to, we can step up [on the kill] and shut it down.”