Minnesota Wild vs. Chicago Blackhawks: Biggest Takeaways from Game 1
The Minnesota Wild had their opportunity to steal Game 1 at the United Center.
The Wild rallied from a 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks in the third period to tie the score and had momentum on their side. However, Patrick Kane refused to let the Blackhawks give up their home-ice advantage. He scored on a brilliant individual effort shortly thereafter, and Chicago regained the lead and control of the game.
But it would have taken more than Kane's heroics if the Wild had taken advantage of their opportunities in the second period, when they outshot the Blackhawks 17-3. Instead of losing the lead in that period, the Blackhawks actually added to it.
The 5-2 final score was not indicative of the difference between the two teams. The Wild are good enough to push the Blackhawks, and that's just what they did in the first game of the series.
Here are the biggest points to ponder from Game 1.
Bryan Bickell Comes Alive in the Postseason
Bryan Bickell must be bored by regular-season hockey. He was often a nonfactor for the Blackhawks, scoring 11 goals and four assists all season.
Those numbers often put him in head coach Joel Quenneville's doghouse. But as frustrated as the coach grew with Bickell during the year, everyone knew that Bickell had a lot more to give. He had been a huge factor in last year's playoff run, and fans were hoping he would do it again this year.
Those hopes are being realized. After Bickell played a fine supporting role in the opening series against the St. Louis Blues, he was quite dynamic in the second-round opener against the Wild. He scored the opener in the first period and closed the show with an empty netter to snuff out what little hope the Wild had at that point.
In addition to his two goals, Bickell registered two hits and was active in the corners. He regularly battled for the puck and often came away with it. As indifferent as he looked during the regular season, he is fully involved in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He has already scored four goals in the postseason.
The Bryzgalov Factor Comes into Play
The Minnesota Wild not only pulled off a memorable win when they defeated the Colorado Avalanche on the road in Game 7, they created momentum for themselves that they could take with them in their upcoming playoff matchups.
The Wild had full confidence when they came to Chicago.
But head coach Mike Yeo had to deal with one major issue. Ilya Bryzgalov was forced to play goal as a result of Darcy Kuemper's apparent head injury.
Bryzgalov has been an erratic playoff performer at best, but Yeo had no choice but to send him out onto the United Center ice.
Bryzgalov had a predictable performance. He gave up four goals on 21 shots. His .810 save percentage did not give his teammates a chance to win a game they might have been able to steal with an adequate performance in net.
Kane Is the NHL's Magic Man
Is there a more dynamic big-game performer in the NHL than Patrick Kane?
It seems that whenever the Blackhawks have a need for a big goal, he comes through for them.
He did just that in the third period of Game 1. Minnesota had scored two goals early in the third period to tie the score, and the Wild appeared to have significant momentum. However, Kane got the puck in the neutral zone, sped through the Minnesota defense and had the game on his stick.
He went to his patented backhand, and Bryzgalov simply had no chance. Kane put the puck in the top corner and gave the Blackhawks a 3-2 lead with 11:38 to play. As he pumped his arms in celebration, the TV cameras showed him yelling, "Showtime."
Nearly nine minutes later, he gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead when Ben Smith deflected a pass to him. Kane had nothing but an empty net staring at him, and he slam-dunked the puck into the back of the net as if the pass had come from Magic Johnson.
Perhaps the Blackhawks offense really is the second coming of Showtime.
Crawford Holds the Fort
Corey Crawford is not a perfect goalie.
When Clayton Stoner fired a shot early in the third period that leaked through Crawford's pads and into the net, the Blackhawks were no longer in control of the game. That goal gave Minnesota life, and the Wild would tie the score moments later on Kyle Brodziak's goal.
However, Crawford was sensational in the second period when Minnesota dominated play and outshot Chicago 17-3. The Wild had a slew of opportunities to get on the scoreboard, but Crawford frustrated them with his superb play in the middle period.
He gave up one stoppable goal in the third period, but he dominated his goaltending battle with Bryzgalov. Crawford stopped 30 of 32 shots and helped the Blackhawks win the first game of the series.
Wild Can Skate with the Defending Champions
The Minnesota Wild dropped the opening game of their series with the Chicago Blackhawks, but the Wild could have won if they had broken through in the first or second period.
Minnesota may not have won the goaltending battle, but it displayed as much or more speed and playmaking ability as its celebrated rival.
Players like Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, Matt Moulson, Kyle Brodziak, Charlie Coyle and Erik Haula are gifted skaters who had the Blackhawks on their heels more than they wanted to be.
If the Blackhawks didn't know it before Game 1, they now know that it will take their best effort to defeat this explosive and resilient team.
Don't get overwhelmed by the final score in the first game of the series. Outside of the difference in goal, the Wild appear to be very competitive with the Blackhawks.