Wild shooters aim to overcome Chicago's lane-clogging defense

  • Article by: RACHEL BLOUNT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 9, 2013 - 11:22 AM

Wild coach Mike Yeo

Had he known beforehand that his team would attempt 68 shots Tuesday, coach Mike Yeo never would have believed the Wild would get shut out by Chicago. Then again, he never would have expected almost 40 percent of those chances to be snuffed out before they got to the net.

The Blackhawks blocked 26 shots as they cruised to a 3-0 victory in Game 4, leaving the Wild searching for ways to avoid a similar fate in Thursday’s Game 5 at United Center. Chicago clogged the shooting lanes throughout the game, boosting goaltender Corey Crawford to the second playoff shutout of his career. The Wild has managed only six goals in four games against a defense that allowed a league-low 2.02 goals per game during the regular season.

Yeo speculated that as players grew more tense, they began hesitating, giving the Blackhawks time to slide into shot lanes. The Wild also misfired on 17 shots, and Crawford stopped all 25 that got to him.

“I do think that when you’re squeezing the stick a little bit, as some of our players are right now, you hang onto the puck a little bit longer,’’ Yeo said. “Or maybe you’re trying to be a little too precise with your shot, and the next thing you know, you’re missing the net. We just have to kind of clear the mechanism, refocus and push all that stuff aside and just go into the game [Thursday] with the right focus.’’

Wild center Kyle Brodziak offered one solution: get moving. The Wild too often stood still, making it easier for the Blackhawks to obstruct shooting lanes. More movement with and without the puck, Brodziak said, can create more two-on-one situations and keep the defense off-balance.

“Speaking from a penalty kill perspective, the hardest power plays to defend against are the ones that are moving,’’ Brodziak said. “It’s almost impossible to keep track of everyone when there’s so much movement. That’s when it throws guys out of lanes.

“[It’s] not only puck movement, but guys have to be working. That’s when you can open up lanes and get more clear shots.’’

Cool Corey

During the regular season, Crawford split time with teammate Ray Emery, giving Chicago a stout tandem that surrendered an NHL-low 97 goals. With Emery recovering from a lower-body injury, Crawford has had to go it alone in the playoffs — and he has excelled.

Crawford leads the league in goals-against average (1.39) and save percentage (.949) in the postseason. Coach Joel Quenneville said his team’s outstanding defense in Game 4 began with the goalie, lauding him for his poise, movement in the net and rebound control.

“He seemed to have real good composure,’’ the coach said. “He’s maturing, and he’s had some good experience in big games. That consistency that he and Ray have had all year, that’s been a strength of our team.’’

Like old times

In the 1980s, after NHL realignment put the North Stars and Blackhawks into the Norris Division, a string of playoff matchups between the teams gave rise to a fierce rivalry that still resonates with Minnesota hockey fans. Quenneville said this week that this series could plant the seeds for similar antagonism between the Wild and Chicago.

The teams again will be members of the same division under a realignment plan that begins next season. Quenne- ville said he saw a rivalry develop between Chicago and Vancouver after they met in the playoffs three seasons in a row.

“We saw that emotion transfer to the following regular season,’’ he said. “Playing more games against [the Wild] now, I’m sure we’ll be able to see that progression come in the next series of regular-season games.’’

Etc.

• Yeo declined to say what kind of injury goaltender Josh Harding suffered when the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews collided with him in the first period of Game 4. Harding was replaced by Darcy Kuemper, but he did make the trip to Chicago on Wednesday. Yeo also would not say which goalie will start Game 5.

• Winger Mike Rupp (knee) and goalie Niklas Backstrom (lower body) also are on the trip, but defenseman Clayton Stoner (upper body) and center Zenon Konopka (foot) are not.

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