Chicago – Right before the Wild’s Nino Niederreiter unleashed his Game 7 winner against Colorado, Ben Smith sat on his couch, wondering if he should break out a suitcase and start packing.
Really, it’s the only thing the Chicago Blackhawks forward and his teammates were concerned with. After dispatching the St. Louis Blues in six games during the first round of the NHL playoffs, there hasn’t been much else to focus on, except whether the team would open Round 2 at home against the Wild or travel to Denver to play the Avalanche.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville even gave the team Monday and Tuesday off.
In about the same amount of time it took Niederreiter’s game-winner to fly in and out of the Colorado net, Smith went from enjoying a nice night off to preparing for a second-round matchup with the Wild, a process that hit full force at practice Thursday morning at the United Center.
“Almost everyone, if not everyone, watched the game,” Smith said. “We have a big challenge ahead of us. We saw how good they were throughout that series, but especially last night.”
The challenge for the defending Stanley Cup champions will have more to do with getting back in the postseason groove than scouting a division rival they faced in the first round of the playoffs a season ago.
“We know what the Wild are capable of,” Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said. “We watched their series quite a bit. They’ve got a little bit of everything in their lineup, so we’re not taking them lightly.”
The Wild will start the series with Ilya Bryzgalov in goal. He struggled in the first two games against Colorado and was replaced by Darcy Kuemper, who was injured Wednesday.
“It doesn’t affect my game plan or the team’s at all,” Sharp said.
In Bryzgalov’s only start against the Hawks this season for the Wild, he allowed two goals on 26 shots during a 3-2 shootout loss in April.
Forward Marian Hossa said Chicago has to match the intensity they played with during their series-clinching Game 6 against St. Louis when the second round begins Friday night. In that game, Chicago opened up the ice with some stretch passes and poured on four goals in the third period.
“They play a really strict defensive game so obviously they try to break up our offensive game,” Hossa said. “We want to make sure we just play simple in the offensive zone.”
While Patrick Kane (three goals, three assists) and Jonathan Toews (three goals, four assists) caught fire early in the first round, the rest of the team lagged behind. Sharp, the Hawks’ leading scorer in the regular season, has only one point in the playoffs.
If Chicago played Colorado, the game would be more wide open. But the Wild, like the Blues, relies on a strong forechecking game, creating offense off turnovers as well as any team in the league. For a Blackhawks offense that prefers to play fast, avoiding those traps becomes a top priority.
“Showing discipline in that regard is something we’ll talk about,” Quenneville said. “We’ve got to be patient knowing that playing the right way it might take 65 minutes some nights. I thought for the most part in our last series was a good test, knowing that’s going to be the recipe in the series.”