CHICAGO – Jonathan Toews just wanted to put the past two games behind him and focus on what lies ahead.
What else can the Chicago Blackhawks do?
The defending champions had a chance to complete a sweep on the road. Instead, they came home tied 2-2 with the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 5 of the best-of-seven series Sunday.
“Just have a real short memory and remind ourselves how good we can be in our building,” Toews said. “It’s playoff hockey—it’s not supposed to be easy. There’s going to be some moments where your stomach drops. That’s the way it goes.”
The Blackhawks looked like they were in good shape after taking the first two games at home, but whatever control they had in this series got ripped from their grasp once the series shifted to Minnesota.
The Wild simply dominated Chicago on their ice, where they’ve played well all season, taking Game 3 4-0 and following that up with a 4-2 victory in Game 4. Jason Pominville scored, Matt Cooke provided a spark in his return from a seven-game kneeing suspension and Minnesota improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs after going 26-10-5 there in the regular season.
“When our backs are against the wall, this group comes out fighting,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
That’s something the Blackhawks have done their share of during a run that’s produced two Stanley Cups since 2010, most recently winning four straight in the opening round against St. Louis after dropping the first two games. While they’re not exactly on their knees, they are staggering a bit.
Giving up four goals in back-to-back games was certainly not what they envisioned. They managed just 20 shots Friday compared to 31 for Minnesota, did not come up with enough loose pucks and were unable to establish an attack against the Wild’s defence.
“We’ve got to get some bodies at the net,” coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday. “So the goalie, when we do shoot the puck, there’s some traffic there.
“I think in the zone, I thought we had some zone time there that things didn’t materialize where we were able to get shots on the net. Whether you’re getting 20 shots a game or 30 shots a game against this team … if you get quality off of that, the quality you’re going to get is by traffic at the net. … (Friday’s) game, you’re not going to get many shots if you don’t come up with many loose pucks like we were unable to do.”
He said the Blackhawks “have to be grittier” and win some of the “one-on-one battles and (be) stronger in the puck area.”
Quenneville juggled the lines, putting Ben Smith on the first group with Toews and Bryan Bickell and inserting defenceman Nick Leddy back into the lineup in an effort for more speed and flow. It didn’t work.
Now, the series is all even.
“Obviously, they’re a great team, they’ve got a lot of skill. We’re going into a pretty hostile place to play a game on Sunday,” Cooke said. “We’ve got to go in, we’ve got to enjoy this for five or 10 minutes and quickly move on. We can be better, we know we can be better. We can go out and play harder and we’re going to have to do that in Chicago.”
The Wild did what they had to do at home. But can they duplicate it in Chicago, where the Blackhawks have dominated? They’re unbeaten there in the playoffs, like Minnesota, at 5-0 after going 27-7-7.
“We have to be careful how we handle this,” Yeo said. “It’s great that we won the game, real happy about that, real happy to be even in the series, but we know that there’s a lot of work ahead of us still.”
The Wild will be a bit short-handed, with Keith Ballard (upper-body injury) and Matt Moulson (lower-body injury) not making the trip.
Ballard was injured on a hit from Brandon Bollig while retrieving a loose puck. The veteran defenceman was in his second game back after missing nearly two months because of a lower body injury.
On Saturday, the NHL suspended Bollig for two games for the hit. He received a minor penalty for boarding in the second period Friday night.
Blackhawks centre Andrew Shaw will likely remain sidelined because of a lower-body injury he suffered in Game 1.
“He’s progressing,” Quenneville said. “I think he felt better the last couple of days. It was an encouraging sign.”