By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks delivered a response to a physical Minnesota Wild team Tuesday night, sucking the energy out of the Xcel Energy Center with a 3-0 win. Corey Crawford slammed the door on the Wild as he handled all 25 shots he saw on the night.
Chicago takes a 3-1 series lead in its Western Conference quarterfinal and was paced by another pair of goals by Patrick Sharp. The penalty kill came up large in denying the Wild six times throughout the evening.
Minnesota came out fast, garnering a nice scoring opportunity in the opening minute that led to a power play. Michal Handzus interfered with Zach Parise to earn two minutes in the box. Michael Frolik got a shorthanded shot on goal on the penalty kill that nearly found its way in. That’s as close as anyone got to scoring in the two-minute penalty as the ‘Hawks made good with the kill.
In the fifth and sixth minutes, the two top forward lines were on the ice, with Minnesota’s trio of Mikko Koivu, Parise and Charlie Coyle getting the best of the action. Corey Crawford kept them off the scoreboard despite several outstanding chances.
Joel Quenneville sent Patrick Kane out with Jonathan Toews in an attempt to reverse the momentum midway through the first period. The move paid off as Chicago began to spend some extended time in the Minnesota zone.
At the 9:39 mark, Marian Hossa kept the puck in the Wild zone with a steal of Koivu’s pass. Coming up the right side, Hossa backhanded a pass to Handzus. Handzus’ attempt bounced off of Patrick Sharp’s knee and the Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead.
Daniel Carcillo made contact with Tom Gilbert 10:13 into the period, earning an interference penalty. Minnesota spent the first 90 seconds in the Blackhawks zone, but again the man advantage was neutralized.
The Wild stayed on the attack, continuing the physical strategy that earned them a Game 3 victory. In the 16th minute, Toews took a pass and found himself with open ice. Bearing down on Josh Harding, Toews tried to come across the crease. The captain couldn’t get off the shot and Harding was slow to recover as Toews’ momentum took him into the Wild goalie.
A minute later Sharp was taken down on a similar rush to the net by Jared Spurgeon, drawing Chicago’s first power play of the contest at 16:42. Harding was checked out by the Minnesota trainers but remained in the game.
Not much came of the power play, but Harding was in obvious pain and labored through the last minute. The ‘Hawks were outshot 7-5 and were on their heels for much of the first 20 minutes. However, they went to the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
Quenneville kept Kane and Toews together to open the second, but Mike Yeo was forced to go to his backup net minder. Darcy Kuemper faced his first shot of the playoffs, a stick-side attempt by Sharp after he swiped a pass by Parise and sent it to net from the top of the circle. The shot went unmolested into the back of the net to put the ‘Hawks up 2-0 just 1:02 into the middle frame.
Crawford lost his footing on a Kyle Brodziak snipe from the corner, but new Dad Duncan Keith was there to knock the loose puck away. Johnny Oduya was tagged for a cross check at 4:26. Crawford came up with a pair of nice stops and for the third time Minnesota came up dry on the power play.
Chicago pressured Kuemper in the tenth minute, with the Wild returning the favor to Crawford in the eleventh. Michal Rozsival took Cal Clutterbuck down to give Minnesota another power play with 11:17 gone in the period. The ‘Hawks handled business yet again and killed the penalty.
The latter half of the period saw Kuemper settle down and make several big stops. The ‘Hawks began to overcome some of the more physical aspects of Minnesota’s game and limited the Wild to just six shots on goal. Heading into the second intermission, the lead was 2-0 Chicago.
The third period got off to a less than optimal start when Kane sent a clearing attempt into the stands, giving Minnesota a power play 1:08 into the action. It got worse when Brandon Saad was called for tripping as the ‘Hawks were about to kill the penalty.
Crawford just kept stopping point-blank attempts, getting a break when the officials lost sight of a loose puck at the 4:25 mark. For the sixth time on the night, the Wild weren’t allowed to convert.
Late in the tenth minute, Coyle cross-checked Marcus Kruger as he was leaving the ice. The Blackhawks went on the power play with 10:15 to play in the game. Chicago had a chance to take a commanding lead but couldn’t deliver in the next two minutes.
Bryan Bickell provided that cushion at even strength with 7:15 to play. After Andrew Shaw checked Justin Falk, Bickell dug the puck out of the corner, fired at the net from a goofy angle and beat Kuemper to make the score 3-0 in favor of the Blackhawks.
From this point, it was a matter of Crawford’s potential shutout and Sharp’s potential hat trick. Kane gave up a shot on goal in the final minutes to try and get Sharp an opportunity, but Kuemper made the save. Crawford and the Blackhawks defense finished off the Wild for the win and the shutout.
-Crawford weathered a dozen third period shots on the part of Minnesota. It’s his net, folks.
-Chicago’s attempts to match the Wild on the physical front usually landed them in the box. Shaw’s hit was a notable exception, leading to Bickell’s third goal of the postseason.
-Duncan Keith flew back to Chicago in the middle of the night, was with his wife as she gave birth and made it back to the arena two hours before the puck dropped. He also led the Blackhawks in ice time with 23:57 played, including 7:29 on the penalty kill.
-Kuemper came into a tough spot and Sharp burned him early, but credit him for some degree of poise in making it tough for Chicago in the last 40 minutes.
-The top line was silent on the score sheet again, with Hossa’s assist coming with the second line. On the other hand, Minnesota’s top line has three points and is a combined minus-14. As long as Koivu and Parise are held in check, who cares who scores the goals?
-Hjalmarsson spent the whole two-minutes on the ice on the second Minnesota power play, coming up with a crucial clear of the puck after the Wild bombarded the net. Frolik also turned in another outstanding effort on the PK unit.
-Note to the power play: we know you can pass. How about some movement on the ice and a few shots on goal? The only pressure that seems to be created is when the ‘Hawks are on the rush into the zone. Once they establish themselves in the zone, they seem to just stand around and pass.
-Seabrook was completely destroyed in the corner by Cal Clutterbuck in the first period like Charlie Brown being knocked off of the pitcher’s mound. Ouch.
-Chicago can end the series Thursday at the United Center. Hands up, who hates these 8:30 p.m. starts?