The Chicago Blackhawks ran their postseason winning streak to six games as they used late goals from Bryan Bickell and Brandon Saad to knock off the Minnesota Wild by a score of 4-1 on Sunday afternoon at the United Center.
The victory gives the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead in the series, and they will head to Minnesota looking to put the Wild in a massive hole. Before they do that, we’ll relive some of the best moments of Game 2 as we take a look at our Three Stars.
Third Star: Bryan Bickell
It’s been said over and over again how much of a better player Bryan Bickell is when the playoffs begin, but he continued to prove that hackneyed statement true again on Sunday as he racked up a career high three points in the Hawks’ victory.
Even though he picked up a goal in the third period and an assist on Brandon Saad’s goal late in the second period, it was his effort in the first period that really stood out. One of the plays that the Blackhawks seem to enjoy executing is the stretch pass out of the defensive zone, with a forward jumping out ahead of the play and trying to create breakaway chances. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa pull that move off frequently when they’re playing on the same line, and Bickell ended up taking on a key role as the Hawks pulled it off in the first period.
On the play, Bickell picked up the puck in the middle of the defensive zone, and he spotted Hossa breaking up the ice on a breakaway attempt. Hossa caught the pass and immediately broke toward Ilya Bryzgalov, but his shot was stopped. Eventually, the puck went in off of Jonathan Toews, and the Hawks had a 1-0 lead.
It wasn’t the first time in the game that Bickell had pulled off the stretch pass, but it was definitely the one that stood out the most. Without Bickell’s soft hands and great vision, the play likely wouldn’t have happened, and the game would have had a different complexion in the ensuing minutes.
Second Star: Marian Hossa
Speaking of guys who racked up three points on the evening, Hossa was a huge contributing force yet again for the Blackhawks, picking up assists on three of the Hawks’ four goals in the game. We already discussed his assist on the Toews goal in the first period on the breakaway attempt, but his plays in the third period are equally deserving of praise.
With about three minutes remaining in the game, the Blackhawks were reeling a bit as the Wild were pressing to tie the game. After a really nice play by Niklas Hjalmarsson in the defensive zone, Hossa got the puck near the blue line. Zach Parise of the Wild came over to try to stop Hossa’s advance, but the savvy veteran deked around the Wild star and set up a 2-on-1 rush with Bickell.
Eventually, Bickell got the puck and scored a goal that served as the crucial insurance goal of the afternoon, and Hossa’s ability to not only get out on the rush, but also to dish off precision passes, served him well in this instance.
First Star: Brandon Saad
If there was one player who was due for a goal more than anyone else on the Blackhawks, it was Saad. Over the past 19 games, Saad failed to light the lamp, but he had shown glimpses of scoring soon. In Game 1 of the series, Saad made a tremendous play as he cut across the offensive zone and feathered a pass over to Hossa for a power play goal, but he was just getting started.
In the second period of Game 2, Saad made a similar move, and this time it was enough to get himself off the skids. Saad cut across to the area between the face-off dots, and after his shot attempt grazed off Parise’s stick, the puck ended up tucking in just underneath the crossbar, and the Hawks got what ultimately proved to be the game winning goal.
Later in the game, Saad picked up the empty netter off a nice feed from Hossa through the neutral zone, but it was his first goal that really helped the Hawks most. Without that late second period tally, the Hawks would have gone into the third period up only a goal instead of two, and their approach would have changed significantly.