The Chicago Blackhawks hope to capitalize on their momentum Friday night after a thrilling overtime win earlier this week to take a 1 – 0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild.
A Chicago win tonight is huge – it would put Minnesota in a big 0 – 2 hole that they would have to play hard to climb out of. Despite being the eighth seed and barely sliding into the playoffs, the Wild are determined to show that they have what it takes to hang with the big dogs atop the league. That spirit showed Tuesday night and it will certainly rear its head for the rest of the series. If Minnesota can take Friday night’s game and even the series 1 – 1 heading back to St. Paul, they stand a good chance of shifting some serious momentum in their favor.
It was a thrilling hockey game Tuesday night in the United Center filled with big hits and big saves. Minnesota held a tight defensive game that forced Chicago to be more aggressive at the opposing blue line. Chicago logged 40 hits to Minnesota’s 36, an aspect of playoff hockey that Chicago knows is key after being far outhit by Phoenix in the first round last year. The physicality and high speed caused Wild Defenseman Ryan Suter to log over 41 minutes of ice-time Tuesday night, an astronomical number that should put the Hawks on alert.
Chicago’s offense responded to Minnesota’s relentless defensive pressure with physicality and shots. The Blackhawks fired 37 shots against Josh Harding Tuesday night, who got the nod just before game time after Niklas Backstrom was injured in pregame warmups. Most notable, however, was Chicago’s third line: Stalberg, Bickell, and Shaw. They lit up the offensive zone and gave the Wild defense fits at times before Bickell scored the winning goal in overtime off a sweet glass pass from Johnny Oduya.
“That was a heck of a play,” Head Coach Joel Quenneville said. “Good ending to a game that I thought we really got better as the game went on.”
Minnesota defenseman Jared Spurgeon had a wonderful night for the Wild in their 1 – 0 loss on Tuesday night, registering 7 blocked shots. He was able to get in the face of the puck carrier and create some frustration against the boards and on the blue line. Chicago will need to have an answer for him, and Michal Rozsival may be just that. He recorded 6 hits and 2 penalty minutes for the Blackhawks. Establishing physical dominance is a strong suit of the 35-year-old defenseman and he will be the example for Chicago.
Despite giving up a soft goal early in the first period, Corey Crawford was spectacular. He allowed one goal on 27 shots and registered a 0.963 save percentage through 76 minutes of play. He had plenty of help on defense in front of him, including the Hawks’ PK going 4-for-4 on the night. Crawford is expected to be in net Friday night.
Both Dave Bolland and Ray Emery have been ruled out of Friday night’s contest due to continuing injuries. Minnesota forward Dany Heatly is out for the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury. Goalie Niklas Backstrom will not play Friday night with a lower body injury and Clayton Stoner will sit with an unspecified injury.