According to Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith, the Wild didn’t do anything that surprised Chicago on Sunday. Toews, the Blackhawks captain, and Keith, a veteran defenseman, didn’t see any shifts in strategy or any new twists from a team they know well.
The Wild, in fact, did exactly what both of them expected. Down 2-0 in the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals, the Wild played with all the spirit and heart of a team desperate to win — and the Blackhawks, they said, did not.
Though the Blackhawks anticipated the Wild would show greater intensity and more physical play in its 3-2 victory Sunday at Xcel Energy Center, they were disappointed in their failure to match it.
The Wild outshot Chicago 37-27 and outhit the Blackhawks 34-13. Toews said his team tried too hard to make pretty plays, rather than simply getting the puck to the net and trying to create havoc in front of Wild goaltender Josh Harding. While Toews praised the performance of goaltender Corey Crawford, who made a season-high 34 saves, the Chicago center wished the rest of the roster would have given the same effort.
“[The Wild] just took it to another level, and that’s something we’ve got to be ready for next time,” said Toews, who led the Blackhawks with 48 points in the regular season but has none in this series. “We didn’t dictate the game for 60 minutes tonight. They did.
“It’s more up to us than anything. … When we focus on what we have to do and how we can bring our best intensity and best effort, we’re a very difficult team to handle. We didn’t make them worry about us and what we were doing quite enough.’’
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville liked his team’s start. For the first 10 minutes — until a penalty on Viktor Stalberg put the Wild on its first power play — he said Chicago displayed playoff-caliber energy and drive.
Though the Wild did not score on the power play, Quenneville said it ignited the announced crowd of 19,238 and drained the Blackhawks’ momentum. Johnny Oduya’s goal at 13 minutes, 26 seconds of the first period got Chicago on the board first, but the Wild began to take control and spend more time in the Blackhawks zone.
Chicago didn’t consistently regain its form until the final seven minutes of the third period, culminating in Keith’s tying goal with 2:46 left in regulation.
“They outplayed us,’’ Quenneville said. “They played like they had to win, and we didn’t.’’
Chicago’s top line of Toews, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa has not scored at even strength in the series, and their power play — which came up empty on two opportunities Sunday — has one goal on nine chances. Quenneville urged his team to shoot more on the power play and to stand its ground in front of the net, agreeing with Toews that the Blackhawks must produce some “greasy goals’’ to succeed against the Wild.
Keith and Toews want to see the Blackhawks get back to their strengths in Tuesday’s Game 4, relying on their team speed and skill to grab hold of the game. But Sunday should serve as a reminder, they said, that the Blackhawks never expected to cruise through the first round.
“We’ve always had the mindset this would be a tough series,’’ Keith said. “They’ve got a lot of great players, and we have a lot of respect for them. They deserved to win. ’’