Another break for Hawks
While you were sleeping on Wednesday, the Wild were putting the Avalanche to bed for the season by completing a seven-game upset in overtime.
And so, the Blackhawks get as lucky with their second-round opponent as they did with their first, when they fell into a matchup with the stumbling Blues, losers of six straight to end the season, three straight at home in regulation.
Sure, the Blues won the first two games, but the Hawks were the more talented team and, once they stopped the stupid stuff, they proved it with four straight wins.
In lucking into a series with the Wild, the Hawks face a wild-card team instead of a division champion, and get home-ice advantage, neither of which would’ve happened if the Avalanche had won.
What’s more, the Hawks get a team that needed seven games to advance, which should’ve taken something out of the Wild, and the fact that they had to play four games in Denver at altitude should’ve taken even more out of them.
Yes, it’s good to be the Hawks today.
But perhaps the biggest advantage the Hawks could have is Minnesota’s leaky Ilya Bryzgalov in the opposing net, not Colorado’s vexing Semyon Varlamov, who stoned the Hawks all season.
Bryzgalov came on late in the third period of Game 7 to replace injured Darcy Kuemper shortly after he gave up a go-ahead goal. Kuemper, who is right behind Corey Crawford in playoff goals-against average at 2.03, left the game as a result of a collision with teammate Ryan Suter.
If Kuemper can’t go, then the Hawks get to face a backup who lost both playoff starts against the Avalanche, getting yanked in one game after giving up three goals on 14 shots, and allowing five goals in the other.
Bryzgalov comes to the United Center with a gruesome 4.25 goals-against average and a laughable .826 save percentage. He ought to come to the United Center in a limo sent by the Hawks.
In front of Bryzgalov, or whoever the Wild throw in net, is a team that is the opposite of the eyesore that Jaques Lemaire coached.
Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Mikko Koivu lead a better group of forwards than the one that scored seven goals in last year’s five-game playoff loss to the Hawks. This postseason, the Wild have goals from 10 different forwards. This edition of the Wild can skate and shoot.
I expect the Wild to go after Crawford the way they torched Varlamov in Game 7, and that means top shelf all night.
The Wild took advantage of Varlamov’s aggressiveness and butterfly style to pick corners, and Jared Spurgeon and Nino Niederreiter in particular picked them brilliantly Wednesday night.
The Wild came back four times in Game 7 before finally winning it, and they beat the Hawks three times in the regular season.
But the Wild didn’t beat these Hawks, the Stanley Cup playoff Hawks, the defending champion Hawks who are checking, skating and scoring like the gold standard that they have been.
And the Wild won’t beat the Hawks more than once in this round, if that.