Blackhawks show off depth in Game 1 against Wild
CHICAGO (AP) - The Minnesota Wild got a terrific effort from Josh Harding in a tough spot. Ryan Suter helped Minnesota keep Chicago's high-powered attack in check, and the Wild still lost Game 1 to the Blackhawks.
The problem for Minnesota is the same one Chicago presented all season long to the rest of the NHL, and it could become even more important as the series moves forward.
The Blackhawks are so deep that it's tough to keep track of everyone.
Take the overtime goal in Tuesday night's playoff opener, which went to Chicago's third line. Or the ice time on the score sheet, which showed a pretty even distribution for the Blackhawks compared to an astounding 41 minutes for Suter and 34 for fellow Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin.
"Every shift's critical, and it's important that you hold up your end of the bargain,'' Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Your depth's going to get challenged and I think we found out all year it was one of the strengths of our team. This year, in the playoffs, I don't think that's changed at all, maybe it would even be that much more important.''
Minnesota's depth was challenged when goalie Niklas Backstrom was scratched with a leg injury after he hurt himself while reaching for a puck as he warmed up for Game 1. Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis diagnosis last summer and played in just five games this season, responded with 35 saves.
Harding could be in the net again for Game 2 on Friday night at the United Center.
The Blackhawks rolled to an NHL-best 36-7-5 record this season, winning the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in 32 years and raising the expectations for a second championship in four years. Nine players had at least 20 points, helping Chicago to 149 goals - second only to high-scoring Pittsburgh.
Beyond Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, rookie Brandon Saad and speedy Viktor Stalberg are all capable scorers. Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland came up with a handful of big plays this year. Defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson can contribute on both sides of the ice.
Thanks to all that depth, Chicago kept winning even when injuries popped and forced Quenneville to shuffle the lines a bit. Bolland and goalie Ray Emery, who have been out with lower body injuries, could practice on Thursday, but Quenneville was uncertain about their availability for Game 2.
From the stars to the role players, the Blackhawks have received contributions up and down the roster this season. And they think it could make a difference as the series wears on against the Wild.
"That's supposed to be one of those advantages we have as a team, that if the game goes late like it did last night, that we still have a lot of energy,'' Toews said Wednesday. "We still have a lot of legs and we can keep going and rely on whoever it is to score that overtime goal. It doesn't really matter who gets the job done. We'll find ways to wear teams down.''
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap