Whatever hope that fans of the Chicago Blackhawks fans had of their club decreasing the level of stress experienced in the first round series against the Nashville Predators went completely out the window on Friday night, as the Blackhawks opened up their series against the Minnesota Wild in Round 2. A tilt that started with promise quickly became marred by defensive miscued and soft goals. Nonetheless, the Blackhawks were able to escape with a large 4-3 win, and the 1-0 series edge to kick off the Western Conference Semifinals.
The first period wasn't quite the dominating display that it may have appeared to be on the scoreboard, but the Hawks turned in an impressive opening frame nonetheless. In a period that led to about as good a start as you could've hoped for, the Hawks were able to grab a 3-0 lead after one.
Brandon Saad scored just 1:15 into the game, off of a wrist shot which left Devan Dubnyk with no chance. In typical Brandon-Saad-make-everything-look-as-easy-as-possible fashion, he skated right up to Dubnyk and flipped it past the Minnesota netminder. Patrick Kane added a tally about 12 minutes later, with his 99th playoff point coming in his 100th career playoff game. For good measure, Marcus Kruger added a bit dirtier of a goal, scoring off of a backhand shot right in front of Dubnyk.
Then the third period rolled around, and, perhaps as predictably as possible, things went sour.
They say the three goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. Those who think that statement is total nonsense weren't done any favors, as the Hawks squandered that lead. The first Minnesota goal came from Jason Zucker, who was able to grab a pass right in the slot and knock it in, unopposed, to Crawford's right. Zach Parise added a power play goal that was the result of a defensive miscue by Michal Rozsival, whose defensive woes also contributed to a Mikael Granlund goal that evened things up.
While Rozsival was unable to deter Granlund from taking the shot in any form or fashion, that third goal, out of all three surrendered by Corey Crawford, was likely one that the goaltender should have had, even with the miserable play from the dinosaur of a defender in front of him.
Luckily, Teuvo Teravainen exists, as he was able to put the Blackhawks back ahead at the tail end of the second period. It was likely a shot that Dubnyk easily should've saved, but we'll just take it as a sign from the Hockey Gods that the kid needs to stick around in this lineup. Wonder if Joel Quenneville will acknowledge it.
Somehow, the third period came and went without either side scoring, as the Blackhawks were able to escape the frame. Not that it didn't come without a number of gut-wrenching, heart-stopping moments.
The Blackhawks caught a tremendously lucky break when Jason Pominville essentially wiffed at what would have been a wide open net in the waning minutes of the game. Pominville had an opportunity on a one-timer on which he was left wide open, but the puck rolled just enough for him to catch the side of the net, and for the Hawks to emerge unscathed.
The Wild pulled Devan Dubnyk at the tail end of the third, but the Hawks were unable to cash in. In what could have been a completely demoralizing loss, the Blackhawks escaped with the victory and the 1-0 series lead, holding serve at home for the first 60 minutes of the series.
A couple of quick observations:
- Corey Crawford gave up a soft goal to even things up. You can make the argument that the Parise goal was a rough one too. But the defense in front of him didn't help matters. And when it mattered most, Crawford stepped up in a huge way. The Wild had a couple of really nice chances in the third, even if only eight shots, and Craw came up large. He's still the guy.
- Michal Rozsival continues to dodge landing himself in the press box with his awful play in the defensive zone. On two of the three Minnesota goals, he made extremely poor plays that contributed to the Wild tallies. For the other, he wasn't on the ice.
- Teuvo played 10:36! We didn't really see him in the third period, which isn't a tremendous surprise.
- Brandon Saad is really, really good.