Odd Man Rush: Blackhawks reminded road back to Cup is tough

The Sports NetworkMay 10, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Blackhawks are returning to the Windy City for Game 5 of their best-of-seven semifinals series tied with the Minnesota Wild at two games a piece.

It isn't a stretch to call that a surprise given the Blackhawks' title as defending Stanley Cup champions and the fact that they outscored the Wild 9-3 in winning the first two games of the series.

But this is the playoffs and Minnesota battling back to even this set is a reminder of just how intense and unpredictable the Stanley Cup playoffs are.

There is a reason that no team has repeated as champion since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

After rolling to a pair of victories at home to begin the set, the Blackhawks were blanked 4-0 in Game 3 and then bested 4-2 in Friday night's Game 4 in Minnesota. The teams went back and forth, with Michal Handzus knotting the score at 2-2 6:28 into the second period.

However, the Wild got the Xcel Energy Center rocking again on Nino Niederreiter's tally less than a minute later and the Blackhawks failed to get any of their seven third-period shots into the Minnesota net.

In addition, some could point out that the Blackhawks were lucky that Handzus' goal was of the game-tying type. That's because Patrick Sharp's first-period tally was one that Wild netminder Ilya Bryzgalov essentially gift-wrapped, allowing Sharp's shot from the right circle to sneak through the five hole.

Still, no one will argue with the plethora of scoring threats on the Blackhawks, including captain Jonathan Toews.

"We've have plenty of offensive talent, guys that can make plays if we're working to get pucks back. We're going to create chances, we don't have to worry about that," said Toews.

But creating chances has been tough for Chicago in this series as the Wild have held the 'Hawks to 22 or fewer shots in each game.

That is an incredible feat when this is considered: in Chicago's 81 playoff games prior to this series dating back to 2003, the Blackhawks were held to 22 shots or fewer just four times.

That total has doubled in this series alone.

"They block a lot of shots. It's tough to get it to the net," noted Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville. "We had enough offensive zone time to generate some chances that didn't materialize, but I think we've got to shoot a little bit more."

For Toews, he thinks the Blackhawks have failed to match the intensity that the Wild put forth in the two games played in their building.

"They worked for their chances. They worked for everything they got. We've got to do the same. I don't know how to explain it. We've got to be better," declared the captain.

The good news for Chicago is that it returns home for Game 5, set to be played on Sunday. Defenseman Duncan Keith is hoping that will inject some life into the club, while Toews is stewing on a missed opportunity.

"It's frustrating to have not gotten a win in the last two games on the road," Toews added. "We could have put ourselves in a great spot had we played the way we needed to play to try and get a win these last two games, but we didn't.

"I think this series is long from over so that's the good news. We've got a chance to redeem ourselves and be better than we have been."

There is no doubt that the pressure is on the Blackhawks. No team wants to go on the road trailing in a series 3-2, but that may go double for Chicago given that Minnesota is 5-0 at home in these playoffs.

A loss on Sunday by the Wild won't do much to dent their confidence, but a victory could have the Blackhawks panicked going back to Minnesota.

Just another reminder of how tough the road back to the Stanley Cup Finals can be.

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