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Bryan Bickell’s overtime goal gives Blackhawks 1-0 series lead vs. Wild

Updated: May 1, 2013 11:45AM



Josh Harding — the goaltender who was an utter disaster in his last start, three long months ago, a last-second fill-in for a suddenly and stunningly injured veteran starter — was brilliant from the outset, aided by teammates fanatically devoted to protecting him.

Corey Crawford — the goaltender who was consistently excellent all season, the one clearly determined and seemingly destined to erase the bitter memories of postseasons past, of soft goals and first-round losses — gave up a goal on the first shot he faced all night. A soft one, at that.

And that’s how the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs started for the Blackhawks on Tuesday night, with an injury during warmups to veteran Minnesota netminder Niklas Backstrom in warmups, and an early, alarming deficit.

It ended with Bryan Bickell launching himself into the glass to celebrate his game-winning goal with 3:25 left in overtime — giving the Hawks a rollicking and riveting 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals — but the message was clear. Nothing comes easy. Nothing goes according to plan. Not in the playoffs.

So much for a routine first-round series against the free-falling Wild. So much for a continuation of the dominant regular season.

“It’s special to have this city and these fans and even these teammates, to get that OT [goal] to put us on top,” Bickell said. “And most importantly, get that first win.”

That’s new for the Hawks, who lost the playoff opener each of the last three seasons — including the 2010 run to the Stanley Cup. This one — between the free-falling Wild, who barely made the playoffs, and the high-flying Hawks, who won the Presidents’ Trophy — appeared destined for that all-too-familiar fate when Crawford was beaten short side by a relatively harmless Cal Clutterbuck wrist shot 4:48 into the game. It was an unnerving start for Hawks fans — and for Crawford.

“I kind of lost it halfway to the net, so, obviously not a way you want to start a series or start the playoffs,” Crawford said. “But I was able to bounce back pretty quick and get some saves after that and get myself in the game.”

Indeed, Crawford was splendid the rest of the way. He finished with 26 saves, including a game-saving blocker stop on Wild sniper Zach Parise, all alone in the slot, barely a minute before Johnny Oduya chipped the puck ahead to Viktor Stalberg, who fed Bickell for the game-winner.

It was the kind of mental toughness, maturation and confidence that Crawford has shown throughout this breakout season. A year ago, he might have stewed on the bad goal and had things snowball from there. Not this time.

“Crow was awesome,” Jonathan Toews said.

So was Harding, a fantastic story, spoiled by the Hawks. The little-used backup — a Masterton Trophy candidate after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last year — hadn’t started since Jan. 30, when he gave up two goals on four shots in seven minutes against the Hawks. And he found out he was starting minutes before game time, when veteran standout Niklas Backstrom — regarded by many to be the Wild’s best shot at stealing a game or two — suffered a lower-body injury reaching for a rebound in warmups. His status for Game 2 is uncertain.

“A bit of a curveball, to say the least,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.

But Harding — with a little help from his friends — was spectacular, making 35 saves while his Wild teammates leapt in front of shots, clogged shooting and skating lanes, and generally made life difficult on the Hawks. Ryan Suter played a franchise-record 41 minutes, and Jared Spurgeon had seven blocked shots in otherworldly efforts.

But Marian Hossa — who had a whopping six shots blocked — finally got one through on a power play two minutes into the second period to tie it, and Crawford matched Harding save for save the rest of the way in a fast-paced, intense third period and overtime until Bickell finally ended it.

For the Hawks, it was a disappointing start, but a big finish. And in the playoffs, the finish is all that matters. But consider the Hawks’ eyes opened. The wakeup call was loud and clear.

“We definitely weren’t as crisp as we wanted to be, especially early on, but I think we got better as the game went along,” Toews said. “When they scored that first goal, we just sat on the bench and said, hey, we’ve just got to relax and just play, and treat it as another game — bring our pace up and bring our speed up a little bit. And that’s what playoff hockey is all about. We got that out of the way and we found a way to win tonight, so we’ll move on to the next one and be better.”



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