There have been a few things that have bothered me about the Wild's recent attempts at solving the problem that is the Blackhawks down there in Chicago. We find ourselves in a familiar place, down 2 games to 0, unable to beat the Hawks in their building, and returning back to the friendly confines of the X down in a hole. It's not too late. There is a way out, and maybe you can help as well. It seems to me, at times the Wild are not doing themselves any favors.
Firstly, the Blackhawks are a damn good team. I don't want to take any credit away from them. They are a team that plays smart defensively and pounces on any mistakes you make. They have killed us in transition, their back-check has minimized any opportunities we've had and the quick strike ability Patrick Kane gives them is second to none in the NHL.
We've seen the Wild make some pretty basic mistakes, stemming from careless, lazy plays with the puck, or just a lack of options. Bad passes have led to transition goals for the Hawks. Letting Kane hang out behind the defense just waiting for a breakout pass is purely inexcusable. I don't give 2 stanchions (That's right, I used the S-word) what Thomas Vanek did or didn't do on that play. Awareness was the Wild's Achilles heel in game 2.
The lack of awareness was brought to the forefront on the power play when Ryan Suter was unable to handle the puck in the neutral zone. In his typical, calm style he didn't sense the pressure coming down from his backside from Marian Hossa who was able to pick his pocket, and you know how this turned out. It was a lack of awareness that allowed Kane to get behind the defense on his goal. This failure stems from players with absolutely no sense of urgency, and a complete meltdown in communication on the ice.
In the pregame video put out by the Wild prior to game 2, we saw players and coaches alike talk about the importance of communication on the ice. They talked endlessly about how this team talks out there. The context was surrounding Erik Haula getting dropped into the lineup for his first playoff game this season, but as they made it sound you would think this is something the Wild are doing, in game, from the top down. Sure, Suter got his pocket picked by Hossa, that's on him. Whether that comes from his lack of awareness on the play, or his teammates lack of awareness to alert him about it, either way it was a huge mistake that sucked the life out of the team.
Watching this team struggle to put anything together besides a good period or two on the road in Chicago, it seems clear to me this team goes through waves where they are too comfortable in their skin out there, and that transitions into a place where the team is really white knuckling it. They put the pressure on themselves and all semblance of the smart defensive game we saw down the stretch goes out the window. Then in between we find the team that stretches out the opposition, finds the holes in the defense and finds ways to score.
You can watch this all play out in dramatic fashion in game 1. The Wild came out far too comfortable with themselves after riding high from a series victory of the St. Louis Blues. They dropped 3 goals quick in the 1st period, slowly transitioned into their game and dropped the hammer on the Hawks with 3 goals in the 2nd before putting the pressure on themselves for that game-breaker goal to take the lead. I'll give that the game-winning goal the Hawks scored late in the 2nd period was completely on Devan Dubnyk, and the Wild seemed to be doing everything right at that moment. Yet going forward from there the pressure was on and the Wild could just not figure it out.
We've seen this team play well when the chips are down and their backs are against the wall. For this to happen the players need to begin trusting each other, they need to be focused and aware, and they need to communicate. This is supposed to be the year it all comes together. Our veteran leadership combined with the youth movement should be hitting their stride now, and for much of the new year, they have been.
Awareness and communication. The Wild are going to need to add these attributes to their game if they want to force this series back to Chicago. They can do it, I have every faith in that. The Wild faithful are hungry for a win. Being that as the case, I would implore any of you glass pounders at tonight's game to feel free to call out to a Wild skater in danger. This team needs to give the masses something to believe in right now, and they may need your help.
We've spotted the Hawks 2 games, now lets turn this thing around before we're discarded like a loaf of moldy bread.