WARR’s hockey writer Sidney Brown offers his takes on the Blackhawks throughout their postseason run as well as predictions on the rest of the NHL
A focused Chicago Blackhawks team finds its way to the Western Conference Finals for the fourth time in the past six years after defeating the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in overtime Tuesday night in St. Paul, clinching its second round series in six games.
In one of their strongest all-around performances of this Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Hawks jumped out to a quick lead when Kris Versteeg netted his first goal of the playoffs off a deflection at 1 minute, 58 seconds into the first period, giving the road team an early 1-0 lead. The Wild didn’t give in and ramped up their pressure on the defensive end and created scoring chances from their back lines, thus giving themselves the shots on goal advantage (9-8) after the opening period.
Minnesota’s attempts to strike came to fruition as the second period commenced and they struck almost as quickly then as Chicago did in the first. Erik Haula’s fourth goal of the playoffs off a wrist shot (2:29) tied the score at 1-1.
What would become a classic playoff game filled with tight defense and strong fore checking still featured some great scoring chances on both sides.
Hawks forward Patrick Sharp had a chance to give the Hawks the lead midway through the second period on a breakaway but was denied by Wild goalie Ilya Brzygalov. Minutes later, Wild forward Justin Fontaine had a chance to put one home in the back of the net but was denied by Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford.
The Wild’s offensive pressure gave them the advantage again on shots on goal for the second (14-8), setting up for an exciting third period which again saw great scoring chances from both teams but nothing came about so eventually it was time for these division rivals to fight it out in overtime for the first time this series. The Wild had the advantage for the first six minutes of the extra session but could not steal the game.
At that point the Hawks made their mark and locked this game and the series up. With 9:42 in overtime — as he’s done many times before — Hawks superstar Patrick Kane netted home his sixth goal of these playoffs, making a highlight-reel backhand shot to put his team in celebration mode.
Give both goalies credit for keeping their teams in a tightly-contested game in a elimination situation. Brzygalov gave the Wild another solid performance on home ice, collecting 25 saves off 27 shots to forma save percentage of .926.
Crawford denied his haters another chance to say he struggles to show up big after his stellar performance in Game 6. Making a series of key saves throughout the evening, Crawford also didn’t give up many rebounds from his stops, which totaled 34 of 35 shots for a .971 save percentage. If that’s not a big time performance in a series-clinching game, then I don’t know what is.
CHI — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook scored one assist each.
CHI — Brent Seabrook lead the team in blocked shots (5).
CHI — Led in total blocked shots (21-20).
MIN — Held a 20-12 advantage in hits.
MIN — Held a 39-28 advantage in faceoff wins
MIN — Nino Niederreiter and Matt Cooke tied for the team lead in hits (3).
CHI — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa combined for 0 points.
CHI — Went 0-1 on the power play.
MIN — Zach Parise, Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville combined for 0 points.
MIN — Went 0-3 on the power play.
While Hawks fans celebrate another trip to the Western Conference Finals, give the Minnesota Wild credit for taking it to the defending champs. As I stated in my series preview, the Wild have improved from last year, but as this series showed, they’re even a little better than people give them credit for.
Wild goalie Ilya Brzygalov surely caught fire late in this series but Corey Crawford showed him up when it mattered most, making key saves and limiting the Wild’s rebounding opportunities. Chicago’s stars stepped up in the form of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell on the scoreboard and they’ll need to keep it going in the next round.
The lesson the Hawks should have learned in this series was not to under estimate your opponent and give a full effort for 60 minutes each time out, win or lose. So Hawks fans who do you want in the Conference Finals — Ducks or Kings? Either way, it’s sure to be a fun and challenging series.
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