ST. PAUL, Minn. – Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews sat at his locker stall after a dispiriting Game 3 loss to the Minnesota Wild in the Western Conference semifinals and all but said he saw the 4-0 wipeout coming.
The 2-1 series lead his Blackhawks held seemed to be of little solace to Toews, who just hasn’t seen the same kind of energy and explosiveness on offence that he expects of the defending Stanley Cup champions. Chicago has managed just 61 shots on net in the first three games against the determined Wild defence, a troubling trend for Toews.
“We’re still looking for the type of game we know we can play and we just haven’t brought it yet. … We won two games at home but I don’t think we’re happy with how we played there, either,” said Toews, whose team had just 19 shots in Game 3. “I don’t think it matters. We have to bring it.”
The Wild have used improved depth on the blue line and a determined back check from hard-nosed forwards like Nino Niederreiter, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula to put the brakes on the high-flying Hawks.
The Blackhawks were able to capitalize on the few opportunities that presented themselves in the first two games, but the chances were nowhere to be found when the venue shifted to fired-up Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday. Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and the rest of Chicago’s vaunted attack hardly got a whiff of Ilya Bryzgalov, the Wild’s up-and-down goalie.
With two days between games, the Blackhawks headed home to Chicago to regroup and maybe gain an edge that was lost while they ripped off four straight victories to eliminate St. Louis in the opening round and then started the series against the Wild with two more wins.
“I think if anything it’s a wake-up call for us,” Kane said. “Winning six games in a row, maybe we were a little overconfident in ourselves and Minnesota did a good job of making it a series last night.”
If anything, the Wild should be even better equipped defensively on Friday night with the return of forward Matt Cooke, who will be in uniform after serving a seven-game suspension for a knee-to-knee hit on Colorado’s Tyson Barrie in the first round.
A veteran of deep playoff runs, Cooke is one of the team’s top defensive forwards and routinely sees time against the opposing team’s top line. But the hit on Barrie renewed criticism of Cooke as a dirty player. He has been suspended six times for a total of 34 games in his career and fined four other times.
This was his first suspension in three years, and Cooke struck an almost defiant tone on Wednesday.
“I do know and people are entitled to their opinions and everyone’s going to have them,” Cooke said. “It’s not my job to go out and change people’s opinions. It’s my job to go out and play the way that I can and be successful and help my teammates win. That’s my job.”
As he has said before this season, Cooke reiterated that he has worked hard over the last three years to clean up his image.
“Although this one situation happened, I still believe and know that I’m in a good spot in the way I approach the game to go out and play a physical style without being (risky),” Cooke said.
Wild coach Mike Yeo said he was still discussing with his staff how best to incorporate Cooke back in to the mix but fully anticipated to have him in the lineup in some role. Yeo said he also expected the Blackhawks to be more aggressive getting pucks to the net in Game 4.
“To say the next game is going to unfold the same way, I’m not going to say that it will,” Yeo said. “I’m going to say that we have to make sure that we’re ready for whatever the game is. And with the type of game that we play, we should be.”
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