When did the NHL sell the rights to playoff games to C-SPAN?
Goodness, what a horrible-looking thing Game 3 of the Blackhawks-Wild series was Tuezzzzzzzday night. It was boring, and the Wild meant for it to be that way. It was their only chance.
The Wild tried beating the Hawks with a skating game and offensive attack in Game 1. That didn’t work.
Then the Wild tried a tight-checking approach in Game 2. Nope.
So, they came home and promptly set hockey back a generation with a version of the soul-killing neutral-zone trap. Way to get the fans going, you wacky Minnesotans.
The Hawks girded for an onslaught in the first half of the first period, but there wasn’t one. If the Wild were desperate, they didn’t play like it. Surely the Wild knew they were down two games to none. Surely they knew they had to overwhelm the Hawks early.
But just as surely, they didn’t.
The Wild seemed content not to let the Hawks get loose. Hockey strategy can get weird. And boring.
The Wild looked like Jacques Lemaire was back behind the bench uglying up the sport with a version of a trap or somesuch concept that clogged the neutral zone. The Wild weren’t about to let the Hawks work a rush, daring them to chip the puck in or turn it over at center ice.
That always has been a solid strategy when you’re the less-talented team and trying to protect your fifth-string goalie. But it’s no way to get your crowd into the action.
The strategy also diminishes the nearly $200 million the Wild spent on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. You can play a trap cheaper than that.
No matter. The Wild didn’t care that they had only five shots in each of the first two periods. The Wild didn’t care that they haven’t scored in any of the first or second periods in this series. The Wild weren’t behind after 40 minutes. That was all the Wild cared about.
That and killing the public’s interest in ever watching another playoff game.
The Wild hoped to frustrate the Hawks into making a mistake. Or make them fall asleep. Or throw up like Gary Bettman’s viewing audience.
And it worked. Minnesota’s active immolation of interesting hockey was rewarded when the Wild scored in the first two minutes of the third period. Erik Haula got away from a lazy Patrick Kane to deflect a puck past Corey Crawford for the Wild’s first lead in this series.
Less than three minutes later, the Wild made it 2-0 on a pretty three-way passing play that began with a faceoff at center. The Hawks got pantsed on that one. When the Wild can do that to the Hawks, and when the Hawks hadn’t done anything like that all night, you could forget it.
See ya Friday night.
This isn’t some magic game plan by the Wild. The Hawks get the blame for failing to chip and chase. The Hawks rarely used their speed by putting pucks in deep to make the Wild defensemen turn around. The Hawks rarely made an effort to put pucks on Ilya Bryzgalov in order to follow the rebound and again forced the Wild defense to turn around. The Hawks rarely had puck support, period.
The Hawks had better figure it out because they will face this again. Because the Hawks couldn’t defeat it. Because the Hawks, while patient, weren’t smart enough to defeat it.
Truth is the Hawks must defeat the trap. For all that is right in the world, the Hawks must kill the trap and all of its sleeper cells. Otherwise, the suicide rate among hockey fans will spike. Hockey life as we know it is doomed.
I believe the trap created more basketball fans than Nike gym shoes. It must die before watchable hockey does. If the Hawks are the superheroes the commercials portray, then they will come back in Games 4 and 5 to save the hockey universe.