CHICAGO – Like a broken record during two off days leading into Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, the Wild repeated the same line over and over and over: “We just have to be a little better in some areas.”
Well, if the Wild has any hope of getting back into the series now, the team will have to be a lot better in many areas.
In a classic 1 vs. 8 series in which the Chicago Blackhawks have the decided edge in every facet, they took it to the Wild in every facet of a 5-2 pounding Friday night at the United Center.
“We weren’t prepared. We turned pucks over, we weren’t crisp, we weren’t making our passes,” said Devin Setoguchi, who pulled the Wild within one late in the second period. “They came at us hard, and that’s what the best team in the league does.
“They can score goals, and we were on our heels for most of the game.”
Michael Frolik and Patrick Sharp scored two goals each, Bryan Bickell added an empty-netter and Corey Crawford made 26 saves as the Blackhawks took a 2-0 stranglehold on the series.
The Wild’s top line was not only shut out for the second game in a row, Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise each were minus-3. Koivu, in particular, had a terrible game. He took three penalties, had two shots and turned the puck over before a shorthanded goal that gave the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.
“I am going to have a tough time sitting up here saying that we’re real happy with anyone,” coach Mike Yeo said when asked about Koivu’s play. “This is a team effort tonight, and unfortunately it wasn’t a very good one.”
For the Wild to win this series now, it must somehow beat the No. 1 team in the NHL during the regular season — a team that lost seven times in regulation all year — four times in the next five games.
Teams that go up 2-0 in a best-of-seven series have gone on to win the series 86.7 percent (280-43) of the time in NHL history. The Blackhawks are 19-2 when up 2-0 all-time. Game 3 — the first Stanley Cup playoff game in St. Paul in five years — will be Sunday at Xcel Energy Center.
“I don’t think we were close to playing our typical game,” Setoguchi said. “Everyone’s got to do it. It can’t just be a couple guys. We left [Josh Harding] out there to dry tonight.”
The Wild gave up 48 shots — the most it has ever allowed in a playoff game. Worse yet, it again was in and out of the offensive zone like a pingpong ball most of the night.
“Two games in a row, it feels like maybe our longest shift in their end is like 10, 20 seconds,” center Kyle Brodziak said. “It’s not good enough. We need to get more of a buzz going in their end.”
The first period was so one-sided, it was like the Wild was clinging to a 1-0 deficit. Basically, it felt like 5-0. The Blackhawks reeled off a 17-7 opening-period shot lead.
If not for Harding, who stopped 43 shots while making his second consecutive start for the injured Niklas Backstrom, the Wild would have been out of the game by the 10-minute mark.
Still, the Wild had to feel lucky it only trailed 1-0 heading into the second. The Wild had a solid start, getting a Koivu point-blank chance 19 seconds in. It was the first quality chance by the top line in the game, but Crawford made the save.
Fifteen seconds later, Jonathan Toews high-sticked Charlie Coyle for a Wild power play. The Wild hadn’t given up a shorthanded goal all regular season, but after Koivu’s sloppy center-ice turnover, Duncan Keith’s shot deflected off Jared Spurgeon and right to Frolik for the shortie.
The power play continued, but Koivu compounded his original mistake by taking a shot that was blocked and cleared. It essentially ruined the rest of the power play. It was not one of Koivu’s finer few minutes.
The Wild generated 15 shots in the period — six on one power play that Crawford robbed Parise on twice. The Wild eventually cut it to 2-1 when Cullen feathered a pass to Setoguchi for a partial break and he sniped his 15th career playoff goal over Crawford’s glove.
But with the Wild back in the game, Sharp scored 3:44 into the third, and as Brodziak said, “they took it to us in the third.”
“We weren’t playing with the pace that we needed to play,” Yeo said. “A large number of the things that we were doing helped them build the speed into their game. They were better tonight from Game 1 and we were worse.”