(Photo: Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports)
It looked all too familiar. After leading the game through two periods, the Blackhawks’ lead was cut in half. Then the score was tied in the third.
And then it happened. Patrick Kane took a pass from Patrick Sharp at center ice, put on his invisible cape at the left blue line and flew unscathed past three defensemen to shoot backhand from the right and score top-shelf past Ilya Bryzgalov.
“He’s so calm with the puck in tight spaces and he makes shots that not a whole lot of people can make,” Sharp said. “That backhand is a good example of it. The thing I like about Kaner the best is the big stages, he always seems to put one in.”
Sharp joked to press that he knew Kane wouldn’t be passing back to him.
“It was a good play by Sharp to throw it over to my side,” Kane said. “I had some time and space so I tried to cut through the middle. It was one of those plays where I was about to drop it to (Sharp) but I saw both defensemen kind of go to him so I just tried to get in on the backhand and made a good shot and it went in. It’s a good feeling.”
Lip-readers claim Kane declared a celebratory “Showtime!” after that goal at 8:22 in the third.
Showtime, it was.
From there, the Blackhawks went to score two more.
Then, Bryan Bickell (assists: Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa) tallied an empty-netter with 2:41 left in the game as the Wild pulled Bryzgalov hoping to rally back with a man advantage. The 5-2 lead with less than two minutes essentially sealed victory for the Blackhawks.
Despite the score, the Blackhawks were outplayed by the Wild. They were outshot 32-22. Minnesota blocked 19 shots to Chicago’s 10. Chicago was outhit 37-24. However, the Blackhawks scored on two out of four Power Play opportunities, a wonderful shock for Chicago fans.
“We didn’t capitalize when we needed to and they scored on their power plays,” Wild forward Zach Parise told media after the loss. “I think that was the difference: the special teams.”
The real surprise in the second was that the Wild didn’t take a bigger lead, after dominating shots 17-3 in the second period.
But, the Wild bit back in an eventful third period. Just 2:19 in, they first got on the scoreboard after a mess around the net followed by a Clayton Stoner slapshot trickled behind goalie Corey Crawford to be cleared by Johnny Oduya, hit Crawford again, and ricochet off Oduya’s skate past the goal line.
This one stung, as Stoner, whose hit took Andrew Shaw out of the game and has him listed day-to-day with a lower body (apparent right-knee) injury, was credited with the goal.
Kane didn’t let it happen, though, with his “showtime” pair of goals.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to be with some great players in this organization, and I think you can go up and down the roster that have been here for a long time and say everyone has done some big things in big games and scored big goals,” Kane told media. “I think it’s part of everyone’s game that’s been around here with the winning attitude.
“It’s always nice to chip in too.”
This was Bryzgalov’s first start since being pulled from the Wild’s 4-2 loss in their Round 1, Game 2 loss to the Avalanche. Goalie Darcy Kuemper then took over for the series until being injured in the last period of Game 7, when Bryzgalov stepped back in to save one and help the Wild advance.
In this loss, Bryzgalov made 17 saves. Crawford made 30.
“Corey, to me, led the charge as far as why we won the game, and special teams were a big part of it,” Coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had a couple nice plays to seal it, but not much in-between we can talk about that was getting us excited.”
The Hawks are hoping for a stronger allover performance next time.
“We weren’t as sharp as we’d like to be,” Hossa said. “But as the game went on we improved. But I still think we can play better than we did. Huge win for us.”
The Blackhawks face the Wild for Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals Sunday at the United Center with a 2 p.m. CT start. The game will be broadcast on NBC.