By Chris Emma–
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Nestled in a Minneapolis hotel, the Blackhawks showed no signs of a team one win away from the Western Conference Final.
On their Wednesday off the ice, the Blackhawks weren’t dragging after their grueling 1-0 win in Game 3. They were simply relaxed.
Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw wore their hotel slippers while wandering the halls. Some players gathered in the basement to stretch. Others went to explore the downtown during the day.
But when the puck drops for Game 4, the Blackhawks will be ready.
“We know what’s at stake,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said.
Chicago snapped its string of seven straight losses in a road Game 3 setting by weathering the Wild storm and maintaining discipline. Now, the Blackhawks have a 3-0 series lead and can earn the sweep.
With that could come more rest, as the other Western Conference semifinal between Anaheim and Calgary stands at 2-1, Ducks leading. Should the Blackhawks wrap up the series Thursday night, they may go more than a week without playing a game.
That would be ideal for a team that could use rest during this Stanley Cup Playoff push. Coach Joel Quenneville has been more aggressive than usual with his ice time (Duncan Keith has averaged 30:44 on the ice), and the schedule for hockey’s postseason is exhausting with games every other day.
So the Blackhawks know what ending the series quickly would do.
“One thing in the playoffs you never want to get ahead of yourself,” Quenneville said. “There are always different challenges, and there are different swings that can happen.”
The Wild may have a little left in the proverbial tank, though Tuesday’s game appeared to be draining. It’s possible that the letdown factor is too great for Minnesota to overcome, combined with Chicago’s pure skill.
The Blackhawks just know they’re eager to finish the job in Game 4, then get back to relaxing.
Blackhawks vs. Wild, Game 4, Xcel Energy Center
TV: NBC Sports Network
Time: 8:30 p.m. CT
Emma’s 3 keys
1.) Maintain discipline — Through the first three games of this series, the Blackhawks have won with smart puck control and sound positioning. They’ve matched the Wild’s style of play but have prevailed because of better skill. As long as Chicago avoids glaring mistakes, it should win.
2.) Stretch it out — Minnesota will be a desperate team in Game 4. The Blackhawks can look for opportune stretch passes to beat the Wild, putting Devan Dubnyk in an uncomfortable position. This was the scenario which led to the one and only goal of Game 3, from Patrick Kane.
3.) Tune out the noise — Xcel Energy Center is going to be loud in the opening minutes of this game. If the Blackhawks keep to their game, it will become quiet. Given this veteran core and its experience, an intimidating road crowd is seldom a factor, but Chicago must not give in to Minnesota.
Prediction — Minnesota 3, Blackhawks 2
There will be a Game 5 back at the United Center, as the Wild will get on the board with a big win. (Of course, I was wrong with my prediction Tuesday, so take it with a grain of salt.)
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.