Chicago Blackhawks: 5 Things to Take from Game 1 Victory over Minnesota Wild
The Chicago Blackhawks needed 16 extra minutes to do so, but prevailed in Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Minnesota Wild. Tuesday at the United Center, a full house was treated to an exciting contest that ended with a terrific sequence of plays on both ends of the ice.
The 'Hawks are now up 1-0 in the series as the teams take two nights off before Friday's Game 2. There is plenty of time to pick apart the next game. Right now let's focus on some aspects that made the first clash between the Blackhawks and Wild such a compelling event.
1. The Third Line Sure Finished
The game-winner Tuesday was a thing of beauty. Just take a look.
From the hit that Andrew Shaw laid on Torrey Mitchell to the retrieval and off-the-glass pass by Johnny Oduya to a patient Viktor Stalberg to the five-hole backhand by Bryan Bickell, the game could not have ended any better for Chicago.
Move over, Dave Bolland. Bickell's playoff resume grows with his fifth postseason goal in the last three years. That's tops on the team, by the way.
I wrote Tuesday that if the third line could convert on some of the opportunities they create, it spelled success for the 'Hawks. The victory Tuesday was a direct result of their ability to finish a pretty scoring chance that they created in overtime.
2. Get off Corey Crawford's Back, Please
Yes, I totally agree. The first shot Minnesota threw at Crawford was a soft goal. No discussion.
To the detractors of Crow, let me present the other 26 shots.
After putting his team down a goal, Crawford made a slew of clutch saves in the third period and overtime until his offense put an end to the contest.
I'm sure that if the 'Hawks had lost 1-0 Tuesday, there would be grumblings about Crawford's lack of postseason poise. Well, he kept Chicago in the game and helped kill four penalties, including on in the extra period. Let's give him a break for a couple of days before we declare him the goat of the series.
3. Mad Props to Josh Harding
Imagine you are Josh Harding. You're battling a debilitating disease (multiple sclerosis) and have appeared in five games all season. Your last start was against Chicago Jan. 30, when you gave up two early goals and were pulled in the first 10 minutes. Then you missed two-and-a-half months.
The hometown fans welcomed your return last week with boos when you relieved Niklas Backstrom against Edmonton. Now Backstrom's coming up lame minutes before the start of Game 1 and everyone on the 'Hawks bench is licking their chops.
The fact that Harding stopped 35 of 37 shots in more than 76 minutes of action and nearly swiped this game for the Wild deserves and commands respect. That's even without factoring what was a troubled season for the 28-year-old goalie.
Harding's performance gives the Wild a lot to take out of this opening game. Even without their starter, Minnesota showed that Harding is capable of keeping things close. Hey, Wild fans. Give Harding some boo-free downtime before he is the potential Game 2 starter.
4. The 'Hawks Gave Minnesota Much Confidence
If Chicago's goal for the series opener was to provide the Wild a glimmer of hope by allowing them to take an early lead and make them realize that they can compete with the 'Hawks and use their speed on the wings effectively, mission accomplished.
The Blackhawks needed to draw first blood, pepper Harding with early shots and take control of the series from the get-go. Instead, they fell behind and let Harding ease into his surprise start.
A win is certainly a win, but Chicago just may have made this a more competitive series as a result of their inability to grab control on the scoreboard.
5. This Is What Playoff Hockey Is All About
A physical struggle that needed extra time to settle the score, this is just what I was expecting when waiting for the playoffs to start.
True, my heart would have been better off with a nice 4-1 runaway win. However, everything that's so cool about Stanley Cup hockey was on display. The anthem. Real intensity on the ice. Two goalies coming up huge and matching each other save for save.
I'm not sure I can take another nail-biter Friday night, but I can't wait to find out.