1) Home Cooking
After dropping both Games 3 and 4 in St. Paul, Minn., this week, the Blackhawks return to the United Center tied 2-2 in their best-of-seven series against the Wild. The good news for the Blackhawks is that if history is any indicator, they have a good chance to regain the series lead on Sunday; Chicago has won 16 of their last 18 postseason home games dating back to 2013, including six straight (5-0 in 2014). They beat Minnesota on home ice in Games 1 and 2 of the series, outscoring the Wild 9-3.
2) Firing Squad
One of the biggest reasons why the Wild have evened the series was their ability to limit the Blackhawks’ scoring chances in Games 3 and 4. Minnesota held Chicago to just 20 shots in Game 4, marking the fourth time in the series that the Blackhawks have recorded 22 or fewer shots - a feat that has only happened on three other occasions in Chicago’s 85 postseason games since 2003. The Blackhawks have averaged just 26.9 shots on net in the 2014 postseason, fewest among active teams.
While scoring opportunities have been at a premium all series, Brent Seabrook has continued his stellar production through the playoffs. The blueliner has netted four assists in four games this series, including the primary assist on Michal Handzus’ redirection goal on Friday. The Tsawassen, B.C., native is averaging more than a point per game in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, recording 10 points (2G, 8A) in seven appearances.
4) Sute Yourself
Despite facing Chicago's postseason league-leading penalty kill, Minnesota has netted a power-play goal in each of the past two games, and one of the Wild’s main special teams weapons is defenseman Ryan Suter. The Madison, Wis., native has recorded an assist on each of Minnesota’s power-play goals this series, while also skating 29 minutes per night, third-highest among all skaters in the postseason. If the Wild hope to continue the pressure on offense, Suter will play a big part in driving opportunities from the blue line.
5) The Mighty Marian
No matter where Head Coach Joel Quenneville puts him in the lineup, veteran Marian Hossa continues to find his way onto the scoresheet. The Trencin, Slovakia, native added two assists in Game 4, including the primary assist on Patrick Sharp’s first-period tally. Hossa continues to lead his team in playoff scoring with 10 points (2G, 8A) in 10 games. The Blackhawks are 4-1 in the 2014 playoffs when Hossa scores at least a point.
The Final Word
Though dropping two consecutive games on the road has to be discouraging, the Blackhawks have the opportunity to take a 3-2 series lead in front of a home crowd on Sunday. Chicago will try to pick up the pace in Game 5, and Quenneville will once again have the benefit of the last line change to get the matchups he wants. Look for Chicago to be much more aggressive on offense; Minnesota goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov only has an .866 save percentage in the playoffs, and the more pucks on net the Blackhawks can get, the better chance they will have to beat the netminder and retake the series lead.
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