No. 3. Chicago Blackhawks vs. No. 4 Minnesota Wild
Story line: The Blackhawks and Wild meet for the second consecutive time in the postseason, but the Wild are a better team than they were a year ago.
Goaltending: Chicago's Corey Crawford (4-2, 1.98, .935) vs. Minnesota's Darcy Kuemper (3-1, 2.03, .913) or Ilya Bryzgalov (1-2, 4.25, .826). The status of Kuemper is crucial going into the Game 1. He has played well for the Wild, but he had to leave Game 7 in the third period against Colorado not long after a collision with Matt Duchene. Bryzgalov is experienced, but hasn't been as effective. Meanwhile, Crawford has been among Chicago's best players.
Focal point: You won't beat the Blackhawks unless you can limit the damage causes by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. They will probably see plenty of Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter.
Season-series: 3-1-1 Minnesota. The Blackhawks outscored Minnesota 15-14.
What the Blackhawks want to do: 1. Saddle up and ride hard. The Blackhawks are a fast, dynamic and dangerous offensive team that looked impressive once they got going against a strong St. Louis defense.They scored 13 goals in the last four games. 2. Be sharper on the power play. They were at 15% in the first round and they should be at 20%. If their power play is sharp, the Blackhawks are always a threat to score four goals a game. 3. Stay disciplined; don't allow the Wild too many power-play opportunities. The Blackhawks have more firepower in 5-on-5 situations.
What the Wild want to do: 1. Get strong leadership from veterans such as Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Suter to counter the Blackhawks' championship experience. Parise, in particular, knows what it takes to reach the Stanley Cup Final because he was there with the New Jersey Devils. Parise was a kingpin in the Wild's first-round triumph over Colorado. He had 10 points in seven games. 2. Continue to get strong defensive play. They gave up 24 shots per game in the first round. It's too much to expect that against the Blackhawks. But they need to keep the shots against near 30. 3. Get all hands on deck. The Wild can't win this series unless they get scoring up and down the lineup. It should be noted that Minnesota has more scoring depth than most fans realize.
Injuries: Blackhawks, none disclosed; Wild, G Nicklas Backstrom (abdominal surgery) out for the season, G Josh Harding (multiple sclerosis) indefinitely, G Kuemper (undisclosed) no information available.
Forecast: The Blackhawks have 41 playoff wins from 2010 to present. They know how to win. The Wild have eight playoff wins in the past decade. They are still learning. Take the Blackhawks in five games.