Myers: Will this time be different for the Wild against Blackhawks?
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - Nobody who plays for the Chicago Blackhawks will be silly enough to say this publicly, but like most of Minnesota, they may have erupted in cheers when Nino Niederreiter's overtime goal ended the Colorado Avalanche season on Wednesday night.
Much as the Wild spent most of March mentally prepping to face either the St. Louis Blues or Anaheim Ducks in round one, the Blackhawks seemed a lock to face the Avalanche in the opening round before everything went haywire in the final week of the regular season.
The Avalanche owned Chicago in the regular season, but won't get a playoff rematch. Chicago, after losing the first two games of their opening round series with St. Louis, won the next four in a row and are resting comfortably somewhere in the Loop, awaiting the Wild's arrival for a second round series sure to start this weekend at the United Center.
Despite out-playing Chicago in at least two games of their first round meeting last year, the Wild were little more than a speed bump en route to the Stanley Cup for Chicago, falling in five games. They're meeting one round later this time, but there are some similarities. Most notably, there's suddenly uncertainty in goal for the Wild with Darcy Kuemper being pulled from game seven with a possible concussion.
St. Louis frustrated the Blackhawks in the first two games of their series by playing an intensely physical brand of hockey -- similar to what the Avalanche did to the Wild in a few of the games in Denver. Once the Blackhawks calmed down, used their superior team speed and solved Ryan Miller, the Blues were done. They'll certainly attempt to do the same versus the Wild. In-series adjustments were a strong point for the Blackhawks in last year's playoffs, and will likely be so again.
"We were comfortable playing whatever style," Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp told Chris Hine of the Chicago Tribune, after the Blues series was done. "The fact we could hang in there, dish out some big hits on physical players and come out on top is a good feeling."
Unlike the Cup-winning Blackhawks team of 2010 which had an off-season fire sale, the 2013 team that paraded the Cup through Grant Park returned largely intact, with scary-good shooters like Sharp, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews leading the charge.
Chicago finished third in the Central Division, meaning they were the road team in the St. Louis series, and would have been heading to Denver as the road team again, if the Avalanche had prevailed. Instead, they got a Wild win, which they undoubtedly wished for, and will be well-rested, wearing their iconic red home sweaters for game one of the Minnesota series.
"It's always nice to get some rest; just be smart and know that every series is different," defenseman Duncan Keith told Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times. "We certainly feel confident right now, but no matter what happens, if we get a few days off here, we're going to have to use it to our advantage and be ready to play as soon as the puck drops next time."
A year ago Wild fans were excited just to be back in the playoffs, and reflected back on some fun playoff series versus Chicago when the North Stars were still the NHL presence in town. Then reality quickly set in, as the deep and talented Hawks made quick work of the Wild.
Despite a losing record versus Minnesota in the regular season, Chicago is no less dangerous this time around, and now there is another Stanley Cup banner hanging from the rafters of their rink.