By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) — When the Blackhawks- Wild series became reality, there were two relative certainties: 1) The Blackhawks would win the series and 2) The series would be ugly as hell. The latter has certainly proved true, while the former may become reality as soon as Tuesday night.
For the better part of 4 1/2 games, the Wild held the edge in play and frustrated the Blackhawks with their trapping defense. Minnesota has effectively eliminated Chicago’s stretch passes and zone entries. This frustrating style of defense has stymied the Blackhawks and has led to fans questioning the heart and intensity of Chicago.
Well, halfway through Game 5, the Blackhawks cracked the code. They threw away their standard stretch offense and committed to the chip-and-chase. Yes, they had dumped the puck in earlier in the series, but lacked the “attack-with-speed” mentality they adopted in Game 5. Now, the Blackhawks were dumping and racing and winning the races. While the game was still in doubt, we finally saw the Blackhawks take control of a game and dominate the way most expected them to dominate the entire series.
The strategic adjustment was not the only reason for Chicago’s success. For the first time in the playoffs, coach Joel Quenneville decided to use center Peter Regin, who ended up as the game’s third star of the night and was the catalyst for several quality shifts, including Chicago’s most dominant shift of the game in the first period.
While he didn’t get on the scoresheet, Regin’s presence in the lineup allowed the Blackhawks to roll four lines consistently for the first time in this round. Chicago’s unmatched depth is one of the main reasons it’s considered a Cup contender, but the absence of the injured Andrew Shaw took of huge chunk out of that depth. With Regin, the Blackhawks filled in with a capable, experienced veteran, as opposed to an unproven prospect or adapted winger.
The Blackhawks now head to St. Paul with the opportunity to eliminate the Wild and advanced to the Western Conference final for the fourth time in six seasons. Minnesota is unbeaten at home this playoff season. The Blackhawks will need a strong start and a complete 60-minute game to advance. As the Wild are no strangers to Game 7 on the road, the Blackhawks would be wise to eliminate the Wild and rest up for the winner of the Kings-Ducks series.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.