Goaltender Devan Dubnyk saved the Wild’s season and now has them pushing forward in the playoffs. He was 27 9 2 with a 1.78 goals against average and .936 save percentage in the regular season for Minnesota after being acquired in January. The St. Louis Blues got to him in two games, but he still held St. Louis to two goals or fewer in all four of the Wild’s first round victories. He also was in net for the Wild’s two wins against the Blackhawks this season and stopped 56 of 57 shots in those games. Chicago needs to crack him to have any chance in the series.
2. Straighten out the defense: The Blackhawks were a defensive mess at times against the Nashville Predators in the first round. They allowed three goals in the first period of Game 1, three goals in the third period of Game 2, three goals (excluding the empty netter) in the third period of Game 5, and three goals in the first period of Game 6. The Predators scored 13 goals in those four periods. Chicago limited Nashville at other times, allowing eight goals in the other 18 periods. In Game 6 on Saturday, the Predators had just four shots on goal in the third period and 11 in the last two periods. The Blackhawks can hold teams down, but they need to be more consistent.
3. Get Crawford going: The Blackhawks have had cheap wholesale jerseys
playoff success the past two years largely due to goalie Corey Crawford. He went 27 15 with a .923 save percentage the past two seasons, stealing a few wins during that stretch. He held opponents to two goals or fewer in 24 of those games. The Blackhawks can’t rely on their offense to bail them out as they did in the first round. Part of that is on the defense, but it’s also on the goaltender. Crawford had arguably the best regular season of his career and then stumbled in the first two games of the playoffs. He’ll likely get the net come Game 1 of the Wild series after finishing Game 6 against the Predators. The Blackhawks need him to regain his form.
4. One side of special teams has to improve: The Blackhawks’ power play hasn’t been a consistent threat in years, but Chicago got by in the playoffs because its penalty kill was among the league’s best. The Blackhawks had just eight power play goals on 70 chances in the playoffs in 2013, but their penalty kill allowed just seven short handed goals on 67 opportunities. Last season, the Blackhawks’ power play was better; they scored 12 times on 57 chances. Still, their penalty kill was dominant, as Chicago held opponents to seven power play goals on 65 chances. Neither side has been especially great this season. The Blackhawks were 16 of 22 on the penalty kill for a 72.7 percentage and 3 of 19 on the power play for a 15.8 percentage in the first round. They need one of those two aspects to improve.
5. Continue having their stars be their stars: The Blackhawks would love to get Bryan Bickell, Kris Versteeg, Antoine Vermette and others producing more in the playoffs, but ultimately their best players are going to guide them. In the first round, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook combined for 12 goals and 36 points. The rest of the team had six goals and 17 points. Depth has often been a Blackhawks strength in recent seasons, but it’s still their core that needs to deliver most.