(Photo: Minneapolis Star Tribune)
They are yet to show their potential this postseason, but the Blackhawks managed to best the Minnesota Wild in six games to advance to the Western Conference Finals. In the “State of Hockey,” the visitors came out on top.
Committing perhaps one of my biggest ice arena pet peeves, Wild fans chanted “Craw-ford, Craw-ford” soon after puck drop.
But, the goalie wasn’t shaken.
‘‘I could hear it,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s fun. It’s a fun part of hockey, trying to get in my head. I’ve heard it before. Probably won’t be the last time, either. I enjoyed it.’’
They may have actually inspired him.
Crawford stopped 34 of 35 shots in the game–14 in the second period and five in overtime, giving Kane the chance to score.
‘‘You’ve got to give Crawford a lot of credit,’’ Kane said. ‘‘I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with the way we were playing in front of him.’’
But much of the game was keep-away. Both sides were putting their bodies on the line, blocking shots, and trying to come out on top. It was the Wild, though, who favored statistically.
They led in shots 9-8 in the first, 14-8 in the second, and 7-6 in the third. That second period was the most taxing for Chicago.
Erik Haula, who has been a beast on the ice this series (3 goals, 1 assist), knotted the score with a wrist shot (assists: Clayton Stoner, Matt Cooke) just 2:29 into the period. The Wild capitalized on that momentum and Chicago struggled to keep it even.
Coach Joel Quenneville used a timeout to help the team regroup, and ultimately they found a way to stay in the game.
Back and forth it went for another period. The game could easily have gone to either team with the Wild leading in faceoff wins 39-28, hits 20-12, and shots 35-27.
The 1-1 score held through regulation.
Then, again, the Wild took control as overtime opened. Shots were 5-5 before the game-winner.
But, with Crawford playing fortress in the net, the Blackhawks found a prime opportunity about halfway through overtime.
Brent Seabrook fired the puck around the boards in their offensive zone. It took a weird bounce back in front of the net and looked like it could be played by Peter Regin; but Regin himself was played by Ryan Suter, opening the puck for Kane.
Kane took control, stutter-stepping a bit to fake goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, then used his backhand shot to fire the puck up behind the crossbar–top-shelf, and right back out again, where Patrick Sharp slapped it back in, just in case.
This was Kane’s sixth game-winning goal in the playoffs, the fourth that came in overtime. It’s his third-career series-clinching overtime goal, perhaps most notably the one that won the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.
“It was exciting to get that opportunity and that chance and whatever it is, if the luck finds me or the heavens above give me some blessings in overtime, I’ll keep taking it,” Kane said. “You know, it’s like Johnny [Toews] always finds a way to score game-winners. We have a bunch of guys that have experience and everyone has done it, but it’s always exciting when you do it.”
These two consecutive wins against the Wild crushed trends that wouldn’t have been favorable for the Hawks. First, Chicago came back to win Sunday after the Wild scored first, something no team had done yet in this round of playoffs. Then, they managed to steal a win on their opponent’s ice, when the previous five victories favored the home team this series.
“We still feel we have another level get to,” Kane said. “It’s exciting to say you didn’t play your best and you still won a series in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That’s a positive thing going forward.”
Chicago will play the winner of the Anaheim Ducks-L.A. Kings series. Anaheim leads 3-2, with game 7 at 7:30 p.m. CT Wednesday.