Thursday night presented us with a bit of a deviation from what has become the norm recently. Plagued by a recent stretch of slow starts, the Chicago Blackhawks came out strong against the Minnesota Wild, with both of their first period goals proving crucial in their 4-2 win on the road.
It was certainly a change of pace when Patrick Sharp put the Hawks on the board about five minutes in the game, and a tremendous relief, to say the least. The opposing team apparently didn't deem him a threat, as Sharp skated in all alone after a David Rundblad dump-in and easily put a puck past Niklas Backstrom, who really didn't have too much work to do on the night overall.
Later on in the period, the Hawks would experience their first of a couple different scares on the night. Thomas Vanek threw a shoulder into Marcus Kruger, who went face first into the boards on the bench. Vanek was given a five minute major for boarding, while Kruger did remain in the game. On the ensuing power play, though, the Blackhawks were able to make them pay, as Patrick Kane put home his 20th goal of the year for the 2-0 edge. It should probably also be noted that Dan Carcillo was on the ice at the time of the Vanek hit. Strong deterrent there.
The good news for the Blackhawks is that they were able to do the bulk of their scoring in the first, because most of the play for the remainder of the game really favored Minnesota. Backstrom only faced 20 shots on the night, and only 36 shot attempts on the night overall. In contrast, the Wild attempted 81 shots, with Corey Crawford standing tall in stopping 42 of 44.
With Crawford doing the job between the pipes, in what was probably his best performance since returning from injury, the Wild were only able to get on the board twice. Jason Zucker brought the Wild within a goal in the second period, but Bryan Bickell extended the lead back to two early on in the third period, off of an assist from Patrick Kane.
The remainder of the time brought about some chaos, and another scary moment, for the Hawks. With about five minutes remaining in the game, a hectic situation in front of the net resulted in Brent Seabrook taking a skate to the eye, and Michal Rozsival sending the Wild to a two man advantage after closing his hand on the puck. Seabrook was able to return to the game, and Rozsival probably had an argument against the call, but the Wild immediately pulled within one on a howitzer of a shot from Jason Pominville that Corey Crawford had no chance on.
The Blackhawks were able to stave off a push from the Wild towards the end, with Bryan Bickell putting home the empty netter and sealing the win for the Hawks. It wasn't exactly a win they can hang their hat on, as the Wild dictated much of the play throughout the night, but it's two points against a division opponent. Nothing wrong with that. They'll turn right around and head up to Edmonton for a tilt on Friday night.
Three Stars of the Night
3. Bryan Bickell
It was a solid night for Bickell, who scored a pair of goals. His first came in the third period, on a wrister that Backstrom had no chance on. That would turn out to be the game-winner, before he added the empty net tally that sealed the deal. He started the night with Brad Richards and Patrick Kane in what turned out to be the best trio of the night, in terms of possession.
2. Patrick Kane
It seems like every night, Patrick Kane works his way deeper and deeper into the Hart Trophy conversation. He continues to perform consistently at an extremely high level, walking away with another three points against Minnesota. He notched a goal and a pair of assists, one of which came on the empty net goal at the end. That runs his total up to 45 points in 41 games, putting him on pace to eclipse his career high for points in a single season. He was also one of the only players that ended on the positive side of the Corsi chart on Thursday.
1. Corey Crawford
For whatever reason, potentially the fact that he still wasn't at 100 percent, Corey Crawford hasn't been at the level that he was before his lower body injury. On Thursday night, he came through with one of his best performances of the year. Without Crawford putting up 42 saves in the fashion that he did, there's no way the Blackhawks walk away with anything resembling two points. It's as simple as that.