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Bryan Bickell scores in overtime to give Hawks Game 1 victory vs. Wild

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford makes save second period Chicago Blackhawks vs. MinnesotWild playoff game April 30 2013 United Center. |

Hawks goalie Corey Crawford makes a save in the second period of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. Minnesota Wild playoff game April 30, 2013 at the United Center. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:36AM



Josh Harding — the goalie 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 goalie 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. A soft one, at that.

And that’s how the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs started for the Blackhawks on Tuesday — with an
injury during warmups to Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom and an alarming early 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 in the playoffs.

‘‘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 their playoff opener in each of the last three seasons, including during their 2010 run to the Stanley Cup. This one — between the free-falling Wild, which 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 to the short side by a relatively harmless wrist shot by Cal Clutterbuck 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,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘Obviously not a way you want to start the playoffs. 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, who was all alone in the slot, barely a minute before Johnny Oduya chipped the puck ahead to Viktor Stalberg, who passed to Bickell for the game-winner.

‘‘Crow was awesome,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said.

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

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

But Harding was spectacular, making 35 saves while his Wild teammates leaped 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 the score, 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.

‘‘That’s what playoff hockey is all about,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We got that out of the way and found a way to win, so we’ll move on to the next one and be better.’’



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