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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.