Blackhawks respond in Game 4 with 3-0 win, take 3-1 series lead
BY MARK LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org May 7, 2013 11:18PM
Updated: May 8, 2013 6:45AM
ST. PAUL, Minn. — There was no reckless hitting, no out-of-character cheap shots, no all-out line brawls. The talk of cheating? Of rivalry? Of hatred? All talk.
No, the Blackhawks didn’t respond in Game 4 to the punch in the mouth the Minnesota Wild delivered in Game 3 with a punch back. Instead, they responded with effort, with stout defense, with brilliant goaltending and even better penalty-killing, with opportunistic offense — in short, with better hockey. The type of all-around, end-to-end hockey that made them heavy favorites in this series to begin with.
The Hawks defeated the Wild 3-0 on Tuesday night to take a commanding 3-1 series lead in the Western Conference quarterfinals, pushing the pesky Wild — now down to third-string goalie Darcy Kuemper after backup Josh Harding was injured by a hard-charging Jonathan Toews in the first period — to the brink of elimination.
Patrick Sharp scored two goals on two goalies, Corey Crawford made 25 saves for his second career playoff shutout, and the Hawks killed off all six Wild power plays (the Hawks had just two all game) with a defensive intensity and a desperation that had been lacking in a Game 3 loss.
The Hawks threw themselves in front of shots and forced others wide by clogging shooting lanes, as a staggering 43 Minnesota shot attempts failed to reach Crawford. Minnesota had just seven shots on goal on its six power plays, including five on back-to-back opportunities to open the third period — its last real chance to climb back into the game.
“I felt good, but i got a lot of help from our guys,” Crawford said. “We blocked a lot of shots, a lot of stuff on the side. We were clearing rebounds after the first shot. And we were so good on the PK, so many big blocks and just clearing the puck. That was the difference.”
Sharp got the Hawks on the board 8:48 into the first period when he crashed the net — one of the Hawks’ stated mission points after Game 3 — and tipped in a Michal Handzus shot after Marian Hossa intercepted a breakout pass intended for Zach Parise. And after Harding was injured in the first period, Sharp introduced Darcy Kuemper to playoff hockey by scoring on the first shot the 23-year-old saw, a seemingly harmless wrist shot 62 seconds into the second.
Bryan Bickell made it 3-0 with 7:14 left in the game by roofing a shot past Kuemper from a ridiculous angle in the corner. That was more than enough for Crawford and the Hawks’ penalty-killers to put a stranglehold on the series.
“It was huge,” said Duncan Keith, who was in Chicago in the morning to witness the birth of his son, Colton. “Seemed like we had a lot of penalties, and our PK was huge all game. Just being smart, in lanes, and battling for pucks.”
It wasn’t the game that was forecast by the pregame chatter, the supposedly simmering hostilities. Daniel Carcillo was inserted into the lineup and delivered a hit less than 10 seconds into his first shift, but he played less than four minutes, taking an early penalty and sitting much of the game. In fact, the Hawks delivered just 10 hits, preferring to control the puck when possible, and prevent the Wild from doing so when not.
No fights. No bad blood. No “hatred.” Just good defense, good goaltending, good penalty-killing. The kind of hockey that could keep the Hawks playing for a while.
“I feel like our team can play a number of different ways,” Sharp shrugged. “People want to make a big deal of the hits, that’s fine. We’ve won physical games before. We’ve won a lot of games with our speed and our playmaking ability, too. Whatever the type of game is out there, I feel confident in our guys.”