By Jon Fromi
The Chicago Blackhawks took a 2-0 series lead Sunday at the United Center, getting three-point performances from Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa to down the Minnesota Wild 4-1. The Blackhawks never trailed in Game 2, getting goals from Bickell and Jonathan Toews along with a pair of goals from Brandon Saad.
First Period-After winning the faceoff, the Hawks got an early shot on goal when Niklas Hjalmarsson fired a slap shot that was caught be Ilya Bryzgalov. Corey Crawford gloved a puck that came up high off of Zach Parise’s skate early in the second minute.
Clayton Stoner was goaded into a cross-checking penalty by Saad at 3:29 of the period to set up a Chicago power play. Brent Seabrook sent an attempt toward net that Bickell got a stick on However, the puck rang off the crossbar and the Wild killed the penalty without surrendering a shot.
Saad got a puck to Marcus Kruger in the slot near the midway point of the period but it was bouncing and didn’t result in a shot. Still, Chicago prevented the Wild from mounting much offense.
The Hawks opened the scoring at the 11:02 mark when Bickell hit Marian Hossa with a stretch pass from the defensive zone. Hossa entered the Minnesota zone and deked Bryzgalov into leaving his skates. Bryzgalov made an incredible pad save on the shot attempt but Toews was literally Johnny on the Spot. The captain trailed the play and put the rebound into the back of the net for a 1-0 Chicago advantage.
Hjalmarsson went down after taking a puck in the neck in the 16th minute but stayed on the bench. Patrick Sharp got a pass from Kane at the bottom of the left circle with just over three minutes left that was knocked away by Charlie Coyle.
The Wild put their first offensive flurry together late in the period but Eric Haula couldn’t knock the equalizer into an open net. The Hawks ended the first 20 minutes up 1-0.
Second Period-After getting off just two shots in the first period, Kyle Brodziak and Marco Scandella were stopped by Crawford in six seconds late in the second minute.
The Hawks had an opportunity in front of Bryzgalov in the eighth minute but a wild scramble for the puck yielded nothing. The Wild went on the power play at 10:54 when Nick Leddy was called for a high stick on Dany Heatley. Despite four Minnesota shots, the Hawks killed the penalty.
After the media timeout Patrick Kane had a shot sent away by Bryzgalov and Toews sent a shot wide of the net. The Wild got the puck deep behind the Hawks net. Nino Niedereitter won control and Rozsival lost his stick but the Hawks managed to clear the zone.
Minnesota continued to put together some strong play in the Chicago zone. A loose puck sat in the blue paint but the Hawks got it out of danger late in the 16th minute.
Chicago got a chance to take back momentum when Kane was hooked by Justin Fontaine with 2:58 to play. Smith missed a put back off a rebound of a Toews shot and the Wild killed the penalty. Seconds after the man advantage expired, the Blackhawks hit paydirt.
Brent Seabrook got the puck to Bickell, who couldn’t settle it in time for a shot but came out of the left corner and found Saad in the middle of the ice. Saad maneuvered and sent a wrist shot toward the net. Parise got a stick on the shot but the puck tumbled over Bryzgalov, off the crossbar and into the net with 56 seconds to play in the second period. Entering the second intermission, Chicago led 2-0.
Third Period-The Wild entered the final 20 minutes in a similar position to Game 1. Like Friday night, Minnesota got an early goal in the third.
Haula swiped a puck in the Hawks zone, starting a play that ended with Cody McCormick beating Crawford to the stick side from point-blank range. Two minutes into the period, the Hawks lead was now 2-1.
Minnesota put on a furious charge over the next few minutes, with Parise and Jason Pominville both getting excellent chances on Crawford. The Hawks goalie stopped Parise’s shot. Then, as the puck was in danger of falling into the goal, Crawford knocked it over the crossbar and on top of his net. Pomminville’s stuff attempt was off the mark at the 3:12 mark.
Duncan Keith turned over the puck to Scandella in the Chicago zone in the eighth minute but Seabrook knocked the puck away to prevent a shot on goal. The action went back and forth without much in the way of scoring chances until Kane got the puck coming down the left side with 8:06 to play. His shot was knocked down by Bryzgalov, who also handled Smith’s rebound attempt.
In the 16th minute, Toews led Bickell on an odd-man rush. Bickell’s shot struck the post and bounced harmlessly across the crease. Moments later, he would receive another chance.
Hossa took possession in his own zone, shook off a challenge from Parise and headed to the net with Bickell on his left. Bickell received the pass and zipped a puck over Bryzgalov’s glove and into the promised land with 2:45 to play.
Down 3-1 with time running out, Yeo removed Bryzgalov from net with two minutes to play. The extra skater did not have the intended result. Hossa sent a clearing attempt off the boards and Saad chased it down to pot the empty net goal. At that point it was all over but the shouting.
Three Stars-Saad (third), Hossa (second), Bickell (first)
-Crawford. Awesome. Again. Just 21 saves on 22 shots, but he withstood a 13-shot barrage in the second period and knocked what would have been the tying goal over the crossbar in the third.
-Is Bickell getting more minutes because he’s playing better or is his playing better because he’s getting more minutes? On whichever side of the fence you happen to sit, the bottom line is Bickell is making a big impact on the playoffs. A goal (to go with two helpers) Sunday leaves him tied on top of the playoff goals list with five.
-If Clayton Stoner is going to be the Wild’s most active and effective defenseman, that’s just fine by me. Ryan Suter is scoreless and a minus-five for the series, by the way.
-Andrew Shaw (lower body) and Brandon Bollig (his first scratch of the season) were out as Joel Quenneville had Kris Versteeg, Joakim Nordstrom and Jeremy Morin in the lineup. Despite limited minutes, I thought Nordstrom and Morin brought something to the table that perhaps Bollig does not.
-Despite taking a puck to the throat, Hjalmarsson did not miss a shift, playing over twenty minutes Sunday. He blocked four shots and added a pair of assists on the last two Chicago goals.
-Hossa, who was on the ice for all four Hawks goals, directly set up three of them. His breakaway led to Toews banging home the first goal, his strength with the puck led to Bickell’s goal and his awareness led Saad to the empty-netter. All in all, it was a nice afternoon for the old man.
-The series now moves north for the next two games. Game 3 is set to start at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday.