The Chicago Blackhawks crept closer to the Minnesota Wild in the standings with a 4-2 victory on Sunday afternoon. The win puts the Hawks just one point behind the Wild for the top spot in the Central Division with the season series wrapped up.
Chicago got out to a blazing start Sunday with a pair of quick goals that helped wake up anyone who wasn’t ready for the early start. Things settled in from there as the Wild tweaked their gameplan and countered with dominant possession the rest of the day, but the Hawks took advantage of their early scores and good goaltending from Corey Crawford to hang on.
The Blackhawks have now won 13 of their past 16 games, including three straight wins over Minnesota. They may not be leading the division, but at this point, you know the Hawks are ready if this meeting comes to fruition in the playoffs again.
Here’s how it happened:
The Blackhawks came out firing by scoring on their first two shots, which ended Devan Dubnyk’s day prematurely. The Wild didn’t waste any time pulling Dubnyk after going down 2-0, and turned to Darcy Kuemper hoping to corral things in before they got out of control.
The first goal came following a series of lucky bounces that ended with Patrick Kane popping one past Dubnyk. The second was ANOTHER one-timer from Artemi Panarin, who perfectly connected on a pass from Kane to score his 22nd goal of the season.
Kane, meanwhile, is up to 30 goals in 2016-17, which gives him three 30-goal seasons in his 10-year career. There’s no chance that he’ll match the 46 goals he scored a year ago, but Kane is still firmly among the best scorers in the NHL. Since the start of last season, Alex Ovechkin (77 goals) is the only player to score more than Kane.
The Wild responded midway through the period with a big goal from Eric Staal, who slipped one under Corey Crawford to make it 2-1. That was a big score after the Hawks burst out to a two-goal lead, and helped turn the tide.
The Wild simply dominated the second period other than a nifty goal that came from some unusual suspects. Jordin Tootoo got tripped up following an entry into the offensive zone, then Marcus Kruger picked up the puck on the delayed penalty and found a streaking Trevor van Riemsdyk in front of the net for a goal.
The Blackhawks ended up getting outshot, 18-8, in the period, with the Wild having several odd-man rush opportunities, too. Crawford stood tall in net, though, stopping all 18 shots to hold onto the lead ...
... and then Crawford immediately gave up a goal following the intermission. Mikael Granlund got in for a chance just 46 seconds into the period, and beat Crawford to make it 3-2.
The Wild kept the pedal down from there, piling shot after shot on Crawford in another dominant 20-minute effort. However, just like in the second period, a clutch goal and great goaltending proved to be the difference for the Blackhawks.
Marian Hossa got in for a breakaway off a beautiful stretch pass through the neutral zone by Duncan Keith, then fired a perfect top-shelf slap shot to beat Kuemper for his 22nd goal of the season. You don’t see the breakaway slap shot goal very often, but they’re oh so sweet.
A couple late Wild penalties ruined their chance at a comeback, and that was that. The Blackhawks probably shouldn’t have won this game, but good fortune and great goaltending can be a great formula, too.
SCH 3 stars
1. Corey Crawford (42 saves on 44 shots)
2. Patrick Kane (1 goal, 1 assist)
3. Eric Staal (1 goal)
The Blackhawks hit the road for a trip across Canada, with road games in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto next week. Expect those all to be heated matchups given that the Canadiens, Senators, and Maple Leafs are all still battling for playoff position in the Eastern Conference.