Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Wild: Who has the edge?

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Blackhawks-Wild: Who has the edge?

It’s just about time. Yes, folks, we’ve had a prolonged wait between first and second rounds but finally — finally! — the Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild will begin Round 2 on Friday night at the United Center.

So that means it is who-has-the-edge story time. As stated in the past, you won’t find a series prediction here. Instead, we break down categories and see who has the edge, at least entering the series.

So while you wait these last few hours before puck drop, let’s look at some edges.

Forwards

Zach Parise had a great first round vs. the Blues, leading the Wild with seven points. Nino Niederreiter was crucial, too, scoring three first-round goals. All in all, the Wild got solid contributions from several forwards. The same goes for the Blackhawks, whose best players were just that against the Predators. Jonathan Toews leads all Blackhawks with eight points, including three goals. Patrick Sharp, who had a forgettable regular season, also had three goals. Patrick Kane had seven points, including two goals, after being sidelined seven weeks. This category would likely be even, but we’re throwing in the Bryan Bickell-against-the-Wild factor. EDGE: Blackhawks.

[MORE: Teravainen expected to return to Blackhawks lineup vs. Wild]

Defensemen

Each team has its Clydesdales: Duncan Keith logged an average of 32 minutes a game in Round 1 (double- and triple-overtime games certainly added to that ice time) while Ryan Suter played just over 26 minutes a game (no overtimes in the Wild’s series vs. St. Louis). Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon had good first rounds: each had three points and finished with plus-5 and plus-3 ratings, respectively. The Blackhawks gave up a lot vs. the Predators, be it shots and goals, and even though it’s a team-defense issue the defensemen bear some brunt in that. On the other side, though, they came up just as big: Keith had the winning goals in Games 1 and 6 and Brent Seabrook had it in Game 4. EDGE: Blackhawks

Goaltenders

Devan Dubnyk is among the Vezina Trophy finalists for a reason. The Wild turned their season around in mid-January, when it acquired Dubnyk, and he’s a big reason for that resurgence. Does he remain tough to beat or do the Blackhawks expose a chink in his armor? Corey Crawford will start the second round back in the Blackhawks’ net, but which Crawford will we see: end-of-regular-season Crawford or start-of-postseason Crawford? We’ll find out soon enough but right now the Wild, after two postseasons of uncertainty atthis position, is steadier there to start this round. EDGE: Wild.

Power play

The Wild had a solid power play in the first round, and it’s currently tops among postseason teams (33.3 percent). It was also more potent on the road (three power-play goals on seven chances) than at home (one goal on five opportunities). The Blackhawks started off well on it in Game 1 (two power-play goals) and came through again in Game 6 (Toews’ goal). It didn’t score in Games 2-5 but had chances and, with Kane’s return, was better with possession time. The edge in this one is minimal, but… EDGE: Wild.

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Penalty kill

This was the Blackhawks’ strength in previous seasons but the Predators picked it apart in the first round, scoring six power-play goals. It also didn’t help that the Blackhawks couldn’t stay out of the box; they were shorthanded 22 times vs. Nashville. Minnesota was 9-for-11 on its penalty kill. The Blackhawks frustrated the Wild with their kill the past two postseasons but that was then. They could tighten it up in the second round but right now, it’s a question mark. EDGE: Wild.

Intangible

In this round, it’s adversity. Both teams have handled it beautifully. The Wild got past their December/early January malaise to become a formidable postseason squad. Obviously they can handle pressure. The Blackhawks have dealt with this plenty themselves, be it that series against Detroit two springs ago or coming back from two sizeable deficits to win Games 1 and 6 against the Predators in the first round. Since the Blackhawks have been here, done this longer, and with pretty much the same group… EDGE: Blackhawks.

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

The Blackhawks’ power-play struggles this season have been well-documented. 

One week ago, they hit rock bottom by slipping to dead last with a 13.8% success rate after going 0-for-17 during their five-game road swing in Western Canada. It played a major role in the Blackhawks picking up only two out of a possible 10 points on that trip. 

After trying just about every possible power-play combination to that point, head coach Jeremy Colliton experimented by positioning Dominik Kubalik in the right faceoff circle and moving Patrick Kane to the left on the first unit. And it's paid off.

In the past four games, the Blackhawks are 6-for-19 on the power play for a percentage of 31.6, which ranks No. 6 over that span. Kubalik has two of those goals while Kane has one and a couple of primary assists as well. 

After Thursday's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in which the Blackhawks scored a season-high three power-play goals, Colliton was asked whether he regretted not putting Kubalik in that spot on the first unit sooner. In an honest admission, he didn't sugarcoat his answer.

"Yeah, and I wish we would've put Kaner on the other side earlier," Colliton told reporters. "We've tried it off and on throughout since I've been here, and we just haven't been able to get it to click with enough success for everyone to embrace it. But we've been able to here, and it's been a nice weapon for us."

No doubt the Blackhawks coaching staff discussed this possibility earlier in the season but were probably reluctant to make the switch because moving Kane out of his usual spot would have meant moving Alex DeBrincat out of his normal spot and then your two best power play weapons are playing out of their comfort zone.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Blackhawks have finally found a formula that's given the power play some life.

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Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

 

Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup champ Brian Campbell — currently a player development coach with Chicago — took on an active role with rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist's development. On the latest installment of "Chevy Drives", Campbell tells NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, that he likes what he sees of the 19-year-old defenseman. 

"There's definitely been a lot of strides that he's taken," Campbell said of the Blackhawks' No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. Boqvist played with the Hawks' American Hockey League affiliate the Rockford IceHogs earlier this season before joining Chicago.

"The American League is a tough league to play in and I thought Adam was doing really well and kind of finding his way. A lot of times people say the American League is harder to play in than the NHL, especially for a skilled guy like Adam. Then he gets up here and you can see how well he's doing with Duncan Keith and some of the plays he's made, some of the goals he's had."

Campbell made several trips to Ontario to visit Boqvist when he was playing for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League after he was drafted. 

"I've been impressed," Campbell said. "I didn't think he'd be at this point already. Even seeing him, he came back down to Rockford during their break, and [I] was just kind of praising him and telling him I'm proud of him. I feel like he's kind of like a little, younger brother to me. I'm proud to see where he is now and really looking forward to seeing where he's going to go."

Boqvist impressed the rest of the organization to land in Chicgao for the majority of this season and take on big minutes and big responsibilities like quarterbacking the power play on the Hawks' top unit.

"He's a really mature kid for . . . even in London, it was like, 'Okay, how are you getting around here?' There's only so much you can do [in] hockey if you're not with that person day-to-day and allowed to go in and really kind of coach them," Campbell said. "For me, I think it was more or less, 'Okay, when are you getting your workouts in,' because as you know the NHL schedule is very busy, you got to find time to get workouts in to keep your strength in your legs or else the second half of your year, you're going to start to fall through, you won't be as strong.

"So just those little insights and talks and sometimes, you can even see it in Rockford, he'd get frustrated when he wasn't getting the puck in areas, and should he get the puck in those areas? Yeah, but I'm like, 'Don't worry, once you get playing in the NHL you're going to get pucks in those areas and you have to be ready and prepared to be effective that way.'

"There's lots of little things that you can go through, the daily routine and the daily grind. Mentally, we talked a little bit about that, being prepared. He's a kid that wants to learn and he listens and asks questions. He even asked questions about my career and that only makes you a better person when you're trying to learn more and prepare yourself to be the best you can."

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