Blackhawks

Stars shine bright as Blackhawks down Wild in Game 2

pattykane050315.png

Stars shine bright as Blackhawks down Wild in Game 2

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.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up for the playoffs, Blackhawks fans!]

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.”

[WATCH: Kane, Toews get the Blackhawks scoring started in Game 2]

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.”

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

usatsi_9256612.jpg
USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Niklas Hjalmarsson 'wasn't happy' about trade, but remembers time with Blackhawks fondly

Apparently time doesn’t heal all wounds. 

Nearly a year and a half since being traded to the Coyotes, Niklas Hjalmarsson will return to the United Center ice on Thursday playing for the visiting team.  

“It’s going to be strange coming in as the away team and being in the other locker room,” said Hjalmarsson on Wednesday. “I bet it’s going to be a lot of emotions and mixed feelings.” 

This is also the first time Hjalmarsson has been back to the city of Chicago since he was traded, a city he called his “second home.” A home where he spent parts of 10 seasons, and never really planned on leaving.

“I wasn’t happy, to be honest with you,” said Hjalmarsson of the trade to Arizona. “I was shocked. It took me a couple days to actually realize I wasn’t going to play for the Hawks anymore.”

Including the playoffs, Hjalmarsson played 751 games in the Indian head sweater. Despite that and the team’s three Stanley Cup victories, the Blackhawks shipped him off to Arizona for Connor Murphy and Laurent Dauphin in June of 2017.

“You kind of let it go after a while,” he said. “Now I’m just hoping all the success for the guys over here too.”

Hjalmarsson was known for his toughness, repeatedly blocking shot after shot, giving up his body, while never missing a shift. He credits his long-time teammates — Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — for a lot of his success and identity on the blue line.

“I couldn’t have had better role models coming into a team,” he said. “I’m very thankful to have played on the same team as those guys and created a lot of success together. We’re always going to be connected with the Cups that we’ve had.”

The third championship won by that defense-trio was on United Center ice against the Lightning in 2015, but that isn’t the memory that stands out most for Hjalmarsson.

“The first Cup is always going to be pretty special,” said the 31-year old. “Even just going to the conference final (in 2009), even when we lost against Detroit that year, the year before was great memories too. The first time for me going into the playoffs and playing deep.”

The tables have turned now for both Hjalmarsson and the Blackhawks. 

The Coyotes have yet to score an even-strength goal this season, while the Blackhawks have claimed eight of a possible 10 points thus far through five games and expect to have their starting goaltender back between the pipes. 

But you won’t hear any ill-will from Hjalmarsson, he’s still rooting for the Hawks.

“I always think that Chicago deserves to have a team in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not that I wish them not to do well. It’s the total opposite. I want them to have continued success.”