By Jon Fromi
It took 73 minutes and eight seconds, but the Chicago Blackhawks prevailed 2-1 in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal matchup with the Minnesota Wild. The Blackhawks third line came up large in setting up Bryan Bickell’s game winner that gives Chicago a 1-0 lead in the series.
The Wild was set on their heels in the warm-up, with starting goalie Niklas Backstrom suffering a lower body injury. Josh Harding got the call to face Chicago after missing much of the regular season.
Despite facing a goalie that had just five appearances all season, Chicago did not put much in the way of pressure on Harding in the opening minutes. The first real scoring chance came when Jason Zucker came up the left side and took the puck hard to the net.
Five minutes in, Cal Clutterbuck grabbed a loose puck, skated into the ‘Hawks zone and sent a wrist toward Crawford. The puck beat him on the stick side. On Minnesota’s first shot of the night, they took a 1-0 advantage 4:49 into the game.
The Blackhawks got the night’s first power play when Mikko Koivu hooked Brandon Saad. Matt Cullen outhustled Duncan Keith for a loose puck and nearly netted a shorthanded goal in the first few seconds. Patrick Kane found Marian Hossa for a nice chance that got blocked by Jared Spurgeon, but that was as good as it got.
The Wild were content with clogging the middle of the ice and forcing a lot of chip-and-chase for much of the period, settling for the occasional run at Crawford. With the early goal, Minnesota was able to concentrate on limiting the high-powered ‘Hawks offense.
Kyle Brodziak created a 2-on-1 in the final minute of the period, got Keith down on the ice and sent a shot that Crawford blocked. Brodziak sent the rebound back to the net but Crawford made a nice play to keep the Wild lead to a single goal. The Blackhawks could manage just six shots on goal in the first 20 minutes and went to the locker room down 1-0.
Charlie Coyle made a rush on Crawford in the opening seconds of the second period after the ‘Hawks committed a turnover. Zach Parise ran into Crawford and was called for interference.
Clutterbuck lost his stick and Kane was denied by a big save from Harding, but as the sands ran out on the penalty Chicago managed to pull even. Kane streaked into the Minnesota zone and threaded a pass to Hossa at the left circle. Hossa’s shot made its way under Harding’s right pad to knot the score at a goal apiece at the 2:06 mark.
Almost immediately after the faceoff, Michal Roszival was called for tripping, resulting in the Wild’s first power play. Tom Gilbert lost the handle on what was a big chance near the end of the man advantage and nothing came of the penalty.
Chicago picked up the pace when the action returned to even strength. Michal Handzus took a centering pass from Johnny Oduya and nearly beat Harding with a one-timer. The Blackhawks found themselves bringing the puck into the Minnesota zone with more frequency. In the first ten minutes of the second frame, Chicago got seven shots on Harding, one more than in the entire first period.
Kane fed Patrick Sharp in the slot in the 16th minute, but the shot was gloved by Harding. Minnesota went on the power play when Keith slashed the stick of Koivu. Crawford made an outstanding stop of a Cullen redirect and the period ended with the score 1-1.
Kane gathered in a pass from Saad in the second minute of the final period. He came across the crease but his shot attempt was absorbed by Harding’s pads. Michael Frolik had a decent attempt with the fourth line a couple of minutes later, though rubber did not meet twine on this occasion.
Brodziak had a couple of chances off a rebound of a Koivu shot but Crawford denied both attempts. Minnesota picked up another power play when Niklas Hjalmarsson’s stick caught in the face at the 6:52 mark but the penalty kill came up big again.
Midway through the period, a scrum in front of the Minnesota net culminated in the puck making it across the line. However, the play had been whistled dead, much to the chagrin of the capacity crowd at the United Center.
The action intensified with eight minutes to play as both teams denied the other’s scoring chances. Crawford turned away an attempt by Zucker and Harding stopped a shot from Sharp. The ‘Hawks third line put in a long shift in the Wild zone. Brandon Saad drove to the net with just over two minutes to play only to have his shot and rebound attempt deflected by Harding. Bryan Bickell came up with a steal and shot attempt in the last minutes, but it was going to take more than 60 minutes to decide Game 1.
Overtime started with Chicago gaining control of the puck and Keith getting off a shot from the blue line. Crawford slid across the crease and deflected a shot by Cullen in the second minute. Hossa made a steal in the Minnesota zone and had Harding down but was unable to get his backhand attempt over Harding’s stick.
With 4:38 played in overtime, Mike Yeo took his timeout after the fourth line forced an icing call. Nick Leddy got off a shot following the resulting faceoff that Harding knocked away.
At the 7:20 mark, Minnesota got a redirect from Zenon Konopka that Crawford absorbed. Zucker hit the crossbar a moment later, after which he was victimized by a high stick by Oduya, giving the Wild a man up with 12:27 to play.
Jonathan Toews got the puck and entered the Minnesota zone along the right boards, drawing a holding the stick penalty on Gilbert. Chicago spent a minute of four-on-four hockey before gaining a minute of power play time. Keith had a blast toward net, but the Blackhawks failed to score.
Suter prevented Sharp from taking the puck to the net in the latter stages of the extra period. Marcus Kruger came around the net but his stuff attempt was stopped by Harding. In the 16th minute, Crawford denied an odd man rush and Harding answered by stopping Hossa.
In the 17th minute, Shaw laid a hit on Torrey Mitchell to separate him from the puck. Oduya collected the biscuit and flipped it to Stalberg in neutral ice. Stalberg hit Bickell coming down the left side. Bickell went forehand-backhand on Harding for the game-winner with 3:25 left.
-You’d think if you scored the game-winning goal, laid out some big hits and was named the game’s first star, you’d get to talk to Susannah Collins after the game. Bickell must not want any face time despite it being a contract year for him because Marin Hossa garnered some face time with Collins. Even in the post-game festivities, Saad was the guest of Pat Boyle and Steve Konroyd.
-Major props to Harding, who last started January 30 and was pulled after giving up two goals early to the ‘Hawks. On the other hand, Chicago blew it big time by not throwing more shots at Harding in the opening minutes.
-If the plan tonight was to install confidence in the Wild youngsters that they could hang with Chicago and be in a position to win a game on the road in the final minutes, mission accomplished.
-Yes, Corey Crawford let in a soft goal on Minnesota’s first shot. He stopped the next 26 and held down the fort until the third line could win it, so get off the guy’s back.
-Stalberg showed some smarts by hanging on to the puck and giving Bickell time to get up the ice. Shaw’s hit, Oduya’s bank pass and Bickell’s finish are all highlight worthy, but don’t forget Youngblood’s part of the winning goal.
-Suter played over 41 minutes Tuesday night. At least one guy is happy about the two days between Game 1 and Game 2 Friday.
-Joel Quenneville certainly wasn’t afraid to send out all four of his lines. The fourth line, including Brandon Bollig, took shifts in the overtime.
-A win is a win, especially in the playoffs. That said, we can expect the games to be hard-fought regardless of who Minnesota sends out to the ice or the crease.