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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.

[SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

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.

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Four takeaways: Brandon Saad breaks out in strong bounce-back performance by Blackhawks

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center on Tuesday:

1. Brandon Saad's breakout game

After turning in one of his best efforts of the season on Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks rewarded Saad with a promotion to the top-six again. And he took advantage of that opportunity.

In the first period alone, Saad recorded four shots on goal, scored his first of the season on the power play, drew a penalty and had a takeaway in 7:42 of ice time, which led all forwards. He finished with nine shot attempts (a season-high seven on goal) and 18:56 of ice time.

On his power-play goal, Saad battled for position in front of the net, called for the puck and scored on his second effort. He did all the right things and got rewarded, including on the empty-netter that sealed the victory.

"I've had some chances, especially as of late," Saad said. "But it's definitely nice for them to get in and get a win on top of that."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "He was excellent tonight. ... I thought he had great speed all over the ice, had the puck way more. We’re happy for him. Big factor in the win."

2. Erik Gustafsson's slap-pass becoming a thing

For the second time this season, Gustafsson contributed to a game-winning goal that involved a fake shot and slap-pass from the point. Patrick Kane was the recipient of the cross-ice pass and buried home the one-timer from the right faceoff circle

"I can’t score by myself, so it’s better to pass it," Gustafsson joked. "No, I know Kaner is out there. He’s always getting open when someone else has the puck so it’s easy to find him and there was one guy in front of me so I wanted to pass it."

3. Blackhawks cut down on high-danger chances

On Sunday against Tampa Bay, the Blackhawks allowed 25 high-danger chances at even strength. It put them at the very bottom of the league for most on average per game, ironically falling below Anaheim.

Through two periods on Tuesday, the Blackhawks allowed zero and only five at 5-on-5 for the entire game. Certainly a 180 from two nights ago, and an area they will continue to build upon.

"We just took away those quality chances," said Corey Crawford, who made 24 saves and picked up his first win at home since Dec. 17, 2017. "I don't think they really had too many where they had time in front of the net to really think about where they wanted to shoot and our guys were on the right away in the middle of the ice and that'll give you a great chance to win a hockey game."

4. Special teams battle

There were a total of 20 penalty minutes (10 for Anaheim, 10 for Chicago), which meant lots of power play opportunities and not as much even-strength time.

The Blackhawks had four of them in the first period, and converted on the second try when Saad scored his first of the season. The penalty killed went 4-for-4, allowing a combined eight combined shots on goal but limiting the quality chances.

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Blackhawks assign Anton Forsberg to Rockford after clearing waivers

Anton Forsberg cleared waivers on Tuesday morning and was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League.

That's good news for the Blackhawks organizational depth chart, with Forsberg as the No. 3 in goal. But it also complicates things in Rockford, where Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen have been sharing the duties.

Delia is 3-1-0 with a 3.26 goals against average and .910 save percentage while Lankinen is 0-1-1 with a 3.39 GAA and .825 save percentage. Perhaps the most likely scenario is Lankinen gets sent to the ECHL with the Indy Fuel while Delia and Forsberg split the load in Rockford.

It's certainly a good problem to have, but it's still unclear how that dynamic will play out.

"We haven’t talked about that," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But we expect [Forsberg] to play."

Luke Johnson recalled

With a spot opening up on the 23-man roster, Johnson is being brought back up after he was squeezed out by Corey Crawford's return. He had a goal and an assist in two games with Rockford.

Brandon Saad returns to top-six role

After turning in arguably his best performance of the season on Sunday, Saad is back playing on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. He had seven shot attempts (three on goal) against Tampa Bay and led the team in 5-on-5 possession numbers.

"[Saad] is coming off a game where we liked what we saw," Quenneville said. "Playing with Kaner can help him get going."

Nick Schmaltz to play right side for first time in NHL career

Eight games into the season and Schmaltz has spent time at both center and left wing. Now he'll get a look on the right side with Alexandre Fortin on the left and David Kampf centering the third line.

Part of the reason for Schmaltz’s move to the right side was because Quenneville said they like Fortin on the left. It's not unfamiliar territory for Schmaltz, but could take some time getting used to.

"I played a little while back, not sure when," Schmaltz said "Just a little bit different. Catching pucks on your forehand now instead of your backhand. It's not a huge adjustment, just play with speed and compete hard and hopefully the skill on our line will take over."