By Michael Calvert
Sometimes two games are just that, two games, and not some dramatic up or downward trend.
The Hawks and Wild were pretty evenly matched throughout most of the 1st on Monday night in St. Paul, but as the game got closer to final horn it got further in hand for the Hawks. To say this game was a total blowout would be doing a disservice for Corey Crawford, who was phenomenal AGAIN.
Crawford stopped 30 of 31 shots for a lofty .967 save percentage. The Hawks were actually outshot in this game, but when the scoring opportunities occurred, the superior talented Hawks closed on them. Crawford was simply better than his Wild counterpart, Niklas Backstrom.
I’d be remiss to not mention Brandon Saad. Anyone who reads my recaps should probably know by now that I’m a huge fan of #20 and last night was a perfect example of why. He’s someone we should all be really excited to have, just another piece in the chest of the Hawks embarrassment of riches. His two-way play is pretty close to stellar already. Last night his goal was fantastic, but his undressing of the entire Wild D to put the half spin-o-rama pass onto Kane’s tape was amazing. 88 must have thought to himself, “Oh, that’s how it’s supposed to look.”
Hawks rolled out the previously second line wing unit of Sharp and Hossa, though now centered by Jonathan Toews. Second line duties where Kane, Pirri and Saad. Third line Bickell and Morin centered by Shaw, and the fourth comprised of Bollig, Kruger and Mills.
Defensively the group was as its been this season, and as it was on Saturday, except for Brookbank being the honorary 6th man of the night.
Very interesting top two lines, or at least a very interesting placement of top 6 forwards. I doubt it was for anything more than a shakeup, or maybe it was Kane’s abysmal minus-9, I really can’t say, but it worked.
1st period: First period started out fairly mundane, not a lot of action from either side. On the second forward unit’s second shift the Hawks really poured it on, to the point the crowd basically gave Backstrom a standing O for making a routine save and putting an end to the intense Hawks pressure.
The Hawks got the first power play of the game on a pretty blatant trip by Parise. The trip wasn’t anything cheap or dirty, just oddly done right in front of a ref, poor decision by one of the Wilds very few superstars. The Hawks rolled out with Kane and Shaw centered by Toews with Sharp and Keith manning the blue line, nothing out of the ordinary here. The Hawks pp moved the puck around and flirted with a scoring chance or two, but never really got it going.
Some hockey stuff happened for about 150 seconds before Hossa with some great behind the net dirty work found Sharps stick for a pretty easy but tough angle put in. Backstrom had no idea where the puck was and kind of lost his net on this, more on that. The goal was only Sharps 2nd of the year which can be looked at as a good or bad thing. I’ll take the glass half full approach and suggest that the Hawks are sporting one of the leagues best records with one of, if not their best scorer really struggling to find the net. I imagine if one of those two, the Hawks record or Sharps not scoring was to change, I’ll take Sharp’s not scoring, very promising.
That’s about it for the first period. Hawks are outshot 10-7 in the period.
Period 2: The penalties started to pile up on the Hawks a bit in the second. With the Wild coming in leading the NHL with 13 power play goals and the Hawks inexplicably sporting the worst pk in the league, I thought that special teams would decide this game. It didn’t, the Hawks were strong on the kill all night and managed to pot one pp goal of their own.
The Wild scored their first and only goal of the game at 11:27. Keith over aggressively made, or attempted to make, a play on Mikael Granlund, but Granlund was able to maintain the puck and find a pretty wide open Jason Pominville. Pominville proceeded to put a rocket past Crawford. This was a shame as it would have been a well earned shut out had Crawford made the save, but I’ll take nothing away from Pominville, the shot was a beaut, I’d not be surprised at all if Crawford couldn’t see it.
Shortly thereafter the game took a turn for the much worse if you are a Wild fan. Patrick Kane takes a rebound from in front of a sprawling Backstrom, who was in the process of losing his net for a remarkably long time, and puts a perfect unselfish pass to Brookbank who showed a scorers touch with a one time slapper. This was the first goal of the year for Brookbank who showed a pretty nice shot, granted Backstrom was lord knows where doing lord knows what. Brookbank had a great game last night. He was where he needed to be, useful in the o zone and a bastard to play against if you were in Christmas colors.
Some 4 minutes later Nick Leddy did his best Jason Pominville impression with a rocket slapper on the pp and the Hawks jump to a 3-1 lead. The Hawks go into the 3rd with a two goal lead, I can only wonder how many of us Hawks fans thought; here we go again.
Period 3: The Hawks nailed shut this coffin quickly on a Sportscenter top 10 type play when Saad basically just bull rushed his way through the Wild d. It looked as though he may take a tough angle partial break shot, but instead channeled his inner Kane and ironically fed Kane a beautiful pass on the tape whilst performing some version of the Kane spin-o-rama. I joke about this, but it really wasn’t lucky or spastic, it was just Grade-A hockey talent, and pretty hilarious to see, kind of like repeatedly stuffing a little brother’s jump shot, just imposing will, I liked it a lot.
Roughly 6 minutes later and Saad was up to it again. This time on a 4 on 4 due to a couple bottom liners getting kicked out of the game due to Saad laughing in the face of another bottom liner, Duncan Keith puts a great slap pass right to Saad who finds himself one on one with the suddenly not invincible against the Hawks Nick Backstrom. Saad after stealing Kane’s go to move decides to poach Toews’ trademark and beats Backstrom through the wickets. I don’t know if the rout was on or continuing at this point but the Wild were fully shellacked in front of a home crowd that really wanted the win.
That’s it, no drama, just a clean convincing win by the Champs.
-What is it with Nick Backstrom and his .880 save percentage playing like a world beater against the Hawks? Get used to it they’re getting everyone’s A game, as well they should. Well, Backstrom looked a lot more .880ish that worldbeatish last night.
-Saad is a beast, I can’t say enough about him. I’m not sure if his best work last night was one of the highlight goals he was involved with or laughing in some chumps face to negate a penalty then scoring 30 seconds later.
-Keith is shaky, never been a huge fan, he’s shaky.
-Seabrook was dropping Wild all over the ice.
-Leddy is coming, look out league Leddy is coming.
-Didn’t notice Hjalmarsson or Oduya and wouldn’t want it any other way, what a second d pairing the Hawks are blessed with.
-The Hawks better keep their pk in order – it’s what wins Stanley Cups. Don’t believe me, look at the past 3 champs, horrible if not worst pp in the playoffs, but all sporting the top pk. It wins championships.