“It’s the system and it really, really works.”
That’s a direct quote from Versus’ post-game anchor Bill Patrick. I don’t know what it is about teams from Minnesota, but even when they play poorly, they still get heaps of praise because of the way they’re known for playing. Somehow, I highly doubt Wild Head Coach Jacques Lemaire decided with a 3-0 lead, he would let the Blackhawks dictate the tempo for the rest of the game, spend the rest of the game in his own zone, and let goalie Niklas Backstrom bail the team out at the end.
Yes, the Wild are known for playing a solid neutral zone trap. It’s designed to keep pressure outside of the defensive end, limit opponents shots on net, and reduce the game to an endless chain of dump and chases. However, after the ‘Hawks fell behind 3-0 six minutes into the second, the game was spent in the Wild’s zone about 70% of the time. A team playing the neutral zone trap correctly doesn’t get outshot 30-13 the last two periods. They don’t hang on for a dear life with 30 minutes left. They suck the life out of the opposition by forcing turnovers and taking the home crowd out of the game. I don’t think Lemaire will be showing video of this game next time he needs a job to show how effective his neutral zone trap is.
After spotting the Wild three goals, the ‘Hawks tried to scratch and claw their way back into the game. Martin Havlat buried a point blank shot from about 15 feet out to make it 3-1 with exactly 10 minutes left. Because of that, some lucky bastard is walking home with a million bucks tonight. Unreal.
The ‘Hawks had plenty of chances afterwards to close the gap. Patrick Kane was robbed by Backstrom on a rebound. Jonathon Toews had a beautiful end to end rush only to be denied. Andrew Ladd was a force on nearly every shift. With three and a half minutes left in the game, Dave Bolland drew a penalty and Q pulled Khabibulin to get the 6-on-4 advantage. Though the puck stayed in Minnesota’s end for most of the kill, the ‘Hawks were incredibly sloppy on their cross ice passes missing by a considerable amount. Don’t tell that to the Versus’ crew though; they spent the first three minutes raving about the Wild’s ability to get their sticks in the passing lane. Nevermind Cam Barker put it right on their tape, it’s the system!!! It wasn’t until Cal Clutterbuck (soaring up the charts of people I’d like to cross-check in the mouth) potted an empty netter with 35 seconds left that the outcome was no longer in doubt.
If the ‘Hawks started off the game the way they finished, they wouldn’t be looking at their 3rd home loss in regulation. Everything evens out in the end and after getting lucky to squeeze 3 points out of this weekend’s back-to-back, maybe this was just the hockey gods settling the score. An effort like the final 30 minutes will put the Blues away early on Wednesday and send the ‘Hawks into the All-Star break with an even 60 points.