By Brad Vandenberk
After clinching their fourth consecutive playoff appearance on Saturday night, the Chicago Blackhawks were back in action Sunday evening to face the playoff-eliminated Minnesota Wild. The night earlier the Hawks blew a 4-0 lead to a Nashville Predators quad which the Hawks could see in the first round of the playoffs. The Hawks came out victors with a 5-4 win. With a win Sunday, the Hawks could leap frog both the Predators and the Detroit Red Wings for 4th place in the Western conference. The Hawks sat in 6th in the West with home ice advantage in sight. The question is – Do the Hawks want to face the Wings or Preds in the first round? With Jonathan Toews now cleared for contact, the good ship Blackhawk will be cruising, heading into the first round no matter which foe they encounter. After Corey Crawford stole a Hawks win last night in the country music capital, Ray Emery started between the pipes for this match. This would give Emery a chance to get some game action in, in case he is called upon during the playoffs. Andrew Brunette was replaced by Michael Frolik as the top line winger. Brunette was seen limping around the arena early Sunday. He was later declared out with a lower body injury. The Wild played the night before as well, beating the LA Kings in a shootout. Josh Harding got the start for the Wild. Duncan Keith was serving the last game of his five game suspension. He will return to the line up on Thursday, when the Hawks travel to Minnesota to face the Wild.
This game was shaping up to be a Wild one! Less than 5 minutes in Patrick Kane takes a chop to the left hand from Dany Heatley. He went to the bench favouring his wrist, but would stay in the game. Jimmy Hayes and Justin Falk decide to toss the gloves. Hayes loses his balance and Falk takes him to the ice. Then Joel Quenneville decides to send Brandon Bollig out on the 3rd line to match up with Heatley. Bollig must have asked Heatley about his golf game, because Healey used the 4 letter F word a few times. Heatley should get used to hollering FORE, as his team will soon be heading to the links this playoff season. As the puck drops, Wild defensemen Clayton Stoner heads right for Bollig. Bollig accepts with a grin and his gloves litter the ice. Stoner probably should have thought twice about this decision as Bollig tried to re shape his face with a couple jersey jabs. Bollig wins the fight again and both penalty boxes begin to look like a line up for the bus. Finally the Hawks get their first power play as Cody Almond heads to the box for slashing. During the power play Patrick Sharp thinks he has scored and raises his hand. However, the puck is sent wide. Then during another face off, Andrew Shaw and Darroll Powe both get called for a rough with Shaw receiving the extra 10 minute misconduct for chirping. At the 9:49 mark of the period, Devin Setoguchi gets behind Niklas Hjalmarsson and squeezes one through Emery’s pads and bangs home the loose puck. This gives the Wild the 1-0 lead and continues the Hawks non shutout streak spanning over 80 games this season. Just 34 seconds later, ex Wild, Nick Leddy carries the puck into the Wild zone and gets it over to Sharp. He goes skate to stick quite rapidly and goes top shelf over Harding tying the game at 1. Then Dave Bolland takes a penalty pushing Nate Prosser into his own goaltender. During the power play Heatley practises his short putts, putting an easy tap in past Emery. Mikko Koivu sends him a great pass with no Hawk defender to be found. As the period comes to an end Dylan Olsen gets his elbow up on Powe and he is given an illegal check to the head penalty. The Hawks get out of the period down 2-1 but out shooting the Wild 10-9.
The second period opened with the Wild having 33 seconds of power play time left. The Hawks are able to kill it and keep the lead to within 1. Just a minute after the penalty it was the Hawks turn to go on the power play. Powe puts his foot out tripping Sean O’Donnell and is called for Interference. The Hawks couldn’t get anything going and the score remains 2-1 Wild. Finally The Hawks are able to tie the score. Brent Seabrook takes the puck from his own end and sprints up ice. He saucers a beauty pass over to a streaking Stalberg. After a quick move past Harding, he tucks the puck past him and the Hawks tie the game. Just 20 seconds later, the Hawks are caught scrambling in their own end and Stoner picks up the rebound and gives the Wild their lead back. Then another 41 seconds later the Wild add another as Kyle Brodziak knocks home a rebound and the score is now 4-2 with 13:31 remaining in the period. Then the Hawks begin to display some nifty passing. Leddy has a great chance from Marian Hossa but can’t handle the pass. Then Leddy drops a pass to Hossa who finds Kane. Kane shots it off the post and in, scoring his 22nd of the year and getting the Hawks to within 1. Then Shaw needed a dance partner as he goes after Almond. This bout was good with both players getting their fair share of shots in. The fight ended with both players agreeing to end it. Shaw gets a great opportunity to tie the game, as he breaks in and puts a shot on Harding. The period ends with the Hawks down 4-3 and outshooting the Wild 26-21.
The third period looked like two teams that played the night before. Both came out very careful, playing a defensive game. Viktor Stalberg continued his dominance having the puck on his stick several times to open the final period. The Hawks get another chance to tie it once again on the power play. Jed Ortmeyer trips up Kane at the blue line. The power play looked a lot better as the Hawks held the zone for almost half of it. Shaw has a few chances in front of the net and Harding keeps the Wild’s lead. Emery comes out to play a puck and almost gets scored on in the process. Seabrook blocks a shot from the point and hits the ice. He is slow to get up and the Hawks can’t clear the zone. Seabrook is forced to stay on the ice finally making his way to the bench once the Hawks are able clear the zone. Stalberg again playing like a man possessed, breaks in and tries to slide it past Harding. The clock ticks to 3:01 and Koivu trips up Bolland breaking in at the blue line. The Hawks make it count! Shaw keeps the puck along the boards and passed it out in front to a wide open Kane. He makes no mistake and the Hawks tie it at 4 with 2:45 remaining in the game. The 187thconsecutive sold out crowd was on their feet! Then Marcus Kruger hooks a Wild forward down and the Hawks have to kill a penalty with 1:44 left in the period. Emery comes up big during the man advantage to keep the score tied. Hossa has a great chance to end it short handed but the period ends with the scored tied at 4 and the Wild opening up OT with some power play time remaining.
The Hawks have some great chances to end this fun filled affair. Shaw and Kruger both helped to keep the puck deep. Emery does his part making a great save at the side of the net. Seabrook gets a juicy rebound as the extra period comes to an end and a shootout is needed to decide a winner.
Kaner shoots first for the home team. He dances in and roofs a pack hand over Harding giving the Hawks the shootout lead.
Next up Erik Christensen rushes up the ice and leaves the puck behind sliding it past Emery with the blade of his stick.
Sharp came in with a hot shot, but Harding was there with the glove tipping it over the net.
Koivu comes in and tries to go to a quick forehand, backhand and looses the puck in the process.
Bolland fakes and has Harding beat put can’t get the puck between him and the post hitting the side of the net.
Finally Setoguchi comes in and shots through Emery’s five hole winning the game 5-4 in the shootout.
-Hawks outshot the Wild 35-30.
-Hawks went 1 for 4 on the power play with Wild going 1 for 3
-Kane and Jamal Mayers were both a solid 9 for 12 in the faceoff circle.
-Brent Seabrook led all Hawks in TOI with 29:54
-The Hawks are now tied for 5th with Nashville but with the Preds holding a game in hand they remain at the 6th spot in the western conference.
-Hawks now travel to Minnesota on Thursday to face the Wild again before heading to Detroit on Saturday night to end the season.
Follow on Twitter @CMM_Brad