Chicago Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger of Sweden, left, and left wing Bryan Bickell celebrate after Bickell scored during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, Tuesday, March 5, 2013 in Chicago. (AP Photo/Brian Kersey)
The Minnesota Wild tied things up late, but it was the Chicago Blackhawks who got the last laugh as Marian Hossa’s shootout goal pushed the Hawks to a 3-2 victory on Thursday night.
Bryan Bickell scored a goal in his first game back after sustaining an injury against the St. Louis Blues in March, and Ben Smith also scored as the Hawks snapped a three game losing streak. Corey Crawford made 25 saves and stopped all three shootout attempts against him to help the team gain two critical points in the standings.
The Blackhawks got off to an interesting start in the game, as they seemed content to play a bit more of a physically imposing game than usual. Andrew Shaw and Joakim Nordstrom both made some great hits in the neutral zone to force Wild puck-carriers to commit turnovers, but the chances that came as a result of those plays didn’t amount to much pressure on the Wild defense.
The Hawks did get their fair share of early chances, with Marian Hossa getting the best one on a quick snapshot off of a won faceoff, but Ilya Bryzgalov was there to slam the door.
With less than six minutes remaining in the period, it was the Wild who got on the board first. Jared Spurgeon got the puck in the near face-off circle, and his shot ended up hitting Niklas Hjalmarsson in front of the net before it kicked off of Charlie Coyle to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. The Wild got a few other chances late in the frame, and after a period they ended up with a 9-5 shot advantage through the first period.
In the second period, the Blackhawks got to a much better start on the offensive side of things, but they still couldn’t quite figure out a way to beat Bryzgalov. Kris Versteeg came in with Hossa on a 2-on-1 rush early in the period, but Bryzgalov swallowed up the Versteeg snap shot as the chance came and went.
A few minutes after that chance though, the Hawks were finally able to get on the board. Versteeg made a nice play along the boards to dish the puck to the point, where Nick Leddy fired it in on net. Bryzgalov made the stop, and also stopped Brandon Saad’s diving attempt at a rebound shot. Finally, Smith was able to corral the puck in the crease and flip it into the net to tie the game up at 1-1.
After that goal, the game took on a much more physical tone. Brandon Bollig drilled Zach Parise in the back as the Wild forward let go of the puck, and a few minutes later, Stephane Veilleux slammed Versteeg into the boards. The Hawks forward ended up retaliating with a slash to Veilleux’s skate, and the Wild got a power play near the halfway point of the period. They weren’t able to score on that, and the game remained tied.
When the Wild picked up a too many men penalty just a few minutes later, more shenanigans ensued. Erik Haula and Jeremy Morin ended up engaging in a bit of a shoving match after a hit on Andrew Shaw in the neutral zone, but the Blackhawks weren’t able to take advantage of the ensuing power play as they struggled to find their chemistry once again on the man-advantage.
The two sides made it through the end of the second period without much in the way of scoring chances, but less than three minutes into the third period, the Blackhawks got a great chance and were able to take the lead. Peter Regin lost a face-off in the offensive zone, but Jeremy Morin made a nifty steal to get the puck back for the Hawks. He found Bickell with a pass, and even though Bryzgalov was able to stop the first shot from the newly-returned forward, Bickell stuck with it and flipped a shot just under the crossbar and into the top of the net to make it a 2-1 lead for the Blackhawks.
The tempo of the game really picked up after that goal, with both sides getting some great scoring chances. Nordstrom made a great poke-check at center ice to jar a puck free, but the shot he got on the rush back into the Wild end was stopped by Bryzgalov. Then Hossa got a nice chance of his own, but it barely slid past the net as it rolled harmlessly through the blue paint.
On the other end, Crawford was kept busy in the closing minutes of the period, as he made two saves on back to back opportunities by Jared Spurgeon. After the forward’s first shot attempt failed, he charged to the net and got another chance, but the Hawks’ goaltender was there to blocker the shot aside as the Hawks kept the lead.
Unfortunately for Chicago, their lead didn’t last, and the Wild tied things up with less than two minutes remaining in the game. Haula charged up the boards into the offensive zone, and he fired a shot in between Hjalmarsson’s legs. The puck ended up deflecting off of Matt Cooke’s stick, and Crawford wasn’t able to stop the shot with his glove as it bounced into the net to tie things up at 2-2.
The game ended up going to overtime, but neither team was able to score. There weren’t a lot of good opportunities either way, with the Hawks holding a 3-2 advantage in shots in the frame. Both goaltenders stood tall, and the two sides headed to a shootout.
Sharp’s first opportunity in the skills competition was stymied by Bryzgalov, and Parise’s snap shot was blocked aside by Crawford to keep the shootout scoreless after the first round. Hossa blasted a slap shot on his next attempt, and it ended up rolling off of Bryzgalov’s glove and into the net. Crawford was then able to stop Miikko Koivu to keep his team ahead 1-0 after two rounds. Smith’s shot to start off the first round hit the post, but Crawford was there to save the day as he stopped Jason Pominville to preserve a 3-2 victory for the home side.
The Blackhawks won’t have much time to savor the victory, as they will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, with a 6pm Central puck drop.