Crawford clutch in shootout; banged-up Blackhawks edge Wild
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter April 3, 2014 9:46PM
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Updated: April 3, 2014 10:54PM
Fifteen minutes before Thursday’s morning skate — typically a time to simply work out the lactic acid in the legs and break a sweat before lunch and a nap — the Blackhawks were on the ice, working on their power play.
“Both units, it’s five guys that haven’t been together all year,” Patrick Sharp said. “It was nice to get out there and move the puck around. Not with any penalty-killers out there, just more skating our routes, learning our options and getting back to basics.”
It’s a tough time to be going back to basics, but this is what happens when you lose two of the best players in the world. Without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the final 11 days of the season, the Hawks are in uncharted territory. Thursday night’s 3-2 shootout victory over the Minnesota Wild was only the second time in seven years that the Hawks played without both Toews and Kane, the other being last season’s meaningless finale in St. Louis.
As a result, it wasn’t the prettiest game the Hawks have ever played. But their first win in four games was a grinding, gritty one — the kind of hockey the Hawks need to play down the stretch, and the kind of hockey that tends to be successful in the playoffs.
“We played the way we had to play — playing it simple, advancing the puck, a check-first mentality,” Joel Quenneville said. “We’re stressing making sure simplicity is at a priority level right now.”
Even with the win — capped by Marian Hossa’s lone shootout goal and Corey Crawford’s clinching save on Jason Pominville — the Hawks find themselves in a tricky position over the stretch run. Without two of their biggest stars, there is still home-ice against Colorado to strive for (though the Hawks are still three points back, with one fewer game left). There still are games to be played (five left now), momentum to be seized, chemistry to be achieved.
They’re limping into the playoffs, but trying to sprint at the same time.
“You can’t just turn on a switch when the postseason comes,” Andrew Shaw said. “These last six games, we’re going to work and compete for one another and build some chemistry. This is the group we’re using right now, so push for that home-ice advantage in the first round.”
After falling behind 1-0 on Charlie Coyle’s first-period goal, Ben Smith tied it at 2:29 of the second. The game got chippy after that — Brandon Bollig briefly knocking Zach Parise out of the game with a forearm to the upper back (Wild coach Mike Yeo was not happy with the hit), and Matt Cooke drilling Shaw in the neutral zone. Both hits were immediately followed by brief scrums, with Jeremy Morin and Bryan Bickell both coming to Shaw’s defense.
Bickell, returning after missing six straight games with an upper-body injury, gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead at 2:45 of the third, scoring after Morin intercepted a pass and wheeled around to throw the puck on net. But Matt Cooke tipped an Erik Haula shot past Crawford with 1:54 left to send it to overtime.
Crawford was upset about the late goal, but atoned with a perfect shootout.
“I didn’t have a choice,” he said. “I kind of felt like I needed to come back and shut the door there.”
It was a gutty win by a patchwork lineup. It’s not quite the team the Hawks will take into the playoffs. But they need to build some positive momentum with it all the same.
“We want to turn it on right now,” Joel Quenneville said. “You’ve got to bring passion. You’ve got to bring intensity. And you have to bring meaning to every shift. That’s what playoffs are all about. But don’t expect to just do it come Game 83.”