The Blackhawks have spent half of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Minnesota Wild controlling the play and doing whatever they want. The other half has been overtime games. The Wild have -- surprisingly, you might say -- gotten the Hawks to a fourth period twice in this series, winning and losing one apiece. Which means Minnesota has played pretty well in about half this series. Good for them!
That said, I don't know if anyone's expecting them to compete with the Hawks tonight, down 3-1, with the series returning to the United Center. If the Hawks don't play well enough to close things out tonight, it might be cause for some concern. Chicago, however, doesn't seem as culpable to a collapse as certain other high profile teams. The Blackhawks very much seem capable of handling their business, but you never know!
Will Josh Harding's return in goal for Minnesota make a difference?
Highly recommend following Mike Russo, the Wild beat writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. He is currently tweeting that not only did the Wild not have a starter named for tonight's game until after practice, but that all three of their practicing goalies (Nicklas Backstrom, Josh Harding, Darcy Kuemper) look terrible. Harding and Backstrom have suffered injuries throughout this series, and Kuemper has eight NHL games to his credit. He also gave up a goal on his first shot against in Game 4. Harding will start Game 5. This could get weird.
Can Patrick Sharp keep scoring at a goal a game pace?
Hey, it works for David Krejci. Sharp scored twice in Game 4, giving him four for the series. Sharp is always one of those reasons you never counted out the Hawks even when they're down. A guy like that, a second-tier guy -- let's face it, we're saying a non-Toews/Kane-Hossa guy -- can go on a torrid pace like the one he's currently on and be a difference maker. It wouldn't shock me if he potted another pair en route to a Chicago series win.
Has Corey Crawford earned the starting job for the rest of the playoffs?
Ray Emery is still out for the Blackhawks and will miss Game 5, as he has missed the entire series. He hasn't been missed, however, if only because Crawford has played really well. In a post-season where goalies are dropping like flies or just dropping too early, he's been excellent. He's 3-1 with a .949 save percentage and a 1.39 goals against average. Though Antii Niemi's gotten a lot of the praise, Crawford has the best save percentage and GAA in the playoffs. Do you really want to risk a Vancouver situation here? Crawford's the man in Chicago.