Every team preaches it this time of year: To advance, the best players need to be the best players.
Right now, the Blackhawks’ best are playing accordingly.
Patrick Kane scored twice and Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews also added goals as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 in Game 2 of their second-round series on Sunday night. The Blackhawks take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which now goes to St. Paul, Minn., for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Corey Crawford stopped 30 of 31 shots for the victory. There was a bit of a scary moment late in the third when Crawford took a Marco Scandella shot flush in the mask. Crawford looked woozy for a few moments after that, although he did make a stop or two. He switched masks at the first stoppage of play. Coach Joel Quenneville said afterward that Crawford was fine. Crawford said the same, but that the black mask was done.
“It was just dented a little bit. Whenever it’s dented there’s a chance the next one can squeak through so you just have to change it,” said Crawford, who bid goodbye to the mask. “Yeah, it was a new one; he gone.”
Kane’s goals were his 100th and 101st career postseason points. Duncan Keith assisted on Kane’s first goal and played just over 30 minutes.
Be it Crawford, the team defense or the offense, the Blackhawks’ best players were at their best on Sunday. They practiced patience, as is needed against a Wild team that doesn’t allow much, and took advantage of Minnesota miscues.
“I think it was our best game all the way around,” Quenneville said. “Good pace and energy from the outset, good pace to our game, defensively solid, all lines were consistent and we had a lot of offensive zone time and puck possession. We played the right way.”
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That started immediately, although this game didn’t feature the offensive fireworks of Game 1. Instead of two teams scoring a combined six goals in the first 30 minutes, as they did on Friday, it took 30 minutes for anyone to score in this one. Toews provided that first goal, a 2-on-0 short-handed effort, with Marian Hossa, to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead. With just 20 seconds left in the second period Kane, off a long pass from Keith, scored to give the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.
“It was a timely goal,” Kane said. “When you go up 2-0 you know they’re going to press a little bit and try to create chances going back their way. We did a good job, for the most part, keeping their chances limited there in the third and we made a great play in the neutral zone getting Sharpie that breakaway.”
Indeed, outside of Matt Dumba’s power-play goal 80 seconds into the third period –one Crawford would likely take back if he could – the Blackhawks kept the Wild at bay. About six minutes after Dumba’s goal they restored their two-goal lead on that Sharp shot.
“I just got the loose puck there and tried to put it up,” said Teuvo Teravainen, who had the primary assist on that goal. “Sharpie got it and what a great goal.”
Kane added an empty-net goal with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.
The Blackhawks could be happy with a lot of things after Sunday night. They won the opening two games of this series with arguably their best performance of this postseason. It won’t be easy in Minnesota; the Wild will be hungry to even the series at home, where they’ve long fed off the home crowd. But the Blackhawks like the way they’re trending right now, and their best are leading the way.
“We all have a lot of experience and we’ve been in these situations before. It’s good to have your top players step up and score some big goals,” Kane said. “We’ll take some pride in that down the road but I think that’s one of those things where you wipe the slate clean after every game and try to bring the best effort going into the next one.”