The Chicago Blackhawks were the NHL's best team in the regular season and thus far, they have taken that form into the postseason too. Chicago captured the first two games of their Western Conference Quarterfinal and now head to St. Paul, where they hope to take Game 3 from the Minnesota Wild to go up 3-0 and essentially put the series to bed.
It took overtime for the Blackhawks to take Game 1, in large part because of the work of Josh Harding. The Wild's backup was called into action at the last minute when Niklas Backstrom was hurt in warm-ups and then put on a show. He turned Chicago away time and time again, making 35 saves, but the Blackhawks did enough to pick up the 2-1 win.
The Wild couldn't even hang with the Blackhawks in Game 2, though. Harding made 43 saves, but that wasn't nearly enough as Patrick Sharp and Michael Frolik each scored twice to lead Chicago to a 5-2 win and 2-0 series lead.
Chicago has looked every bit the part of the NHL's best in the first two games. Does Minnesota have an answer? They better have one in Game 3 or they can start making plans for an early summer vacation.
Can the Wild ride a rowdy home crowd?
Minnesota loves the Wild and the Xcel Energy Center has been rocking for every playoff game since the franchise made its first playoff appearance in 2003. That season, they went all the way to the Western Conference Finals and the Wild home crowd drew praise for the crazy atmosphere for every home game. After two losses in Chicago, the Wild could use a home crowd like that on Sunday in their first playoff game at Xcel since 2008.
Will the Wild's top line get on the board?
Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle did not score in either of the first two games and Coyle's one assist was the lone point for the three. As you might guess, that's not good enough for Minnesota.
Parise and Koivu are the faces of the franchise, due a combined $14 million for the next six seasons. Parise led the Wild with 38 points this season and Koivu was right behind him with 37. They have been linemates all year and carried the team at times during the regular season, but now, with the Wild's season on the line, they have gone quiet. If they don't get going, Minnesota might as well pack up and go home now.
Can the Blackhawks' penalty kill be beaten?
The Blackhawks had the third best penalty kill during the regular season, killing 87.2% of man advantages, but they took it to another level in the first two games of the postseason. Chicago has not yet allowed a power play goal, killing all seven of Minnesota's chances. They haven't given the Wild many looks at goal either.
Chicago has been outstanding down a man, blocking shots, cutting off passing lanes and on the rare occasions when they do get beat, Corey Crawford is there to save them. But the most impressive part has been how difficult the Blackhawks have made it for the Wild to even get the puck into the offensive zone. Elite teams dominate on special teams and at least on the penalty kill, Chicago has been elite and then some.