When Erik Haula scored in the first period of Game 5 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, there were likely plenty of fans who thought to themselves “oh no, not again.”
Fortunately for those fans, and for the Blackhawks themselves, the bounced back with a couple of great plays, and they eventually hung on for a 2-1 win. The win was the first in the series (and of the second round of the playoffs as a whole) that saw a team who didn’t score first come back and triumph, and the victory puts the Blackhawks in position to clinch the series when the scene shifts to St. Paul on Tuesday night.
Before we get to work previewing that game, here are the Three Stars of Sunday night.
Third Star: Michal Handzus
When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, one of their key weapons on the roster was veteran center John Madden. The long-time New Jersey Devil took tons of face-offs, played great penalty killing minutes, and was a key defensive component at even strength as the Blackhawks romped through the playoffs and won the Cup over the Philadelphia Flyers.
On Sunday night, Handzus did his best impression of Madden, and he had arguably his best game of the postseason so far. Normally shielded from playing a lot of even strength time in an effort by Joel Quenneville to keep him fresh for his penalty killing duties, Handzus ended up playing 19:03 of ice time, with a shot on goal, a blocked shot, and two hits to his credit.
More importantly than any of those numbers is this one: 12. That’s the number of face-offs that Handzus won on Sunday night in 20 attempts, and he tied for the team lead in draws taken with Jonathan Toews. When you add that proficiency in the face-off circle with the fact that he played nearly the entire penalty kill after Brent Seabrook was sent to the box for tripping, it’s obvious that Handzus had a big impact on how this game ended up turning out, even if he didn’t get a point as a result of his efforts.
Second Star: Patrick Kane
Speaking of guys who likely won’t show up on the highlight reel, but had a big impact on the game anyway, Kane did all the little things right in the Blackhawks’ win.
In the second period and with his team on the power play, Kane did what he does best: create opportunities for his teammates to shine. After getting the puck from Patrick Sharp as it cycled through the zone, Kane saw an opening in the slot and skated through the middle of the ice.
Instead of shooting right away, he carried the puck for a moment, allowing Bryan Bickell to get into position, and he ended up firing a shot that went right between Bickell’s legs. Ilya Bryzgalov had a tough time following the shot, and when it bounced off Bickell and skipped into the net, the goaltender had no chance to stop it, and the Blackhawks tied the game at 1-1 as a result.
Late in the game, Kane made another key play, this time with his speed. With the puck headed down the ice, it appeared that the Blackhawks had iced the puck, setting up a face-off in the defensive zone. Kane had other ideas however, out-racing Wild defenseman (and Team USA Olympic teammate) Ryan Suter for the puck, negating the icing and milking more time off the clock as the Blackhawks held onto their advantage.
Those two plays, which showed off his patience and his speed, show how effective a player Kane can be even if he isn’t putting the puck in the net, and the Blackhawks needed his strong effort to win Game 5.
First Star: Jonathan Toews
On a night that saw Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby get away with a spearing penalty and slew-footing an opponent, the Blackhawks’ captain showed that in crunch time, he is one of the best leaders in this league.
Four minutes into the third period, the Blackhawks were reeling a bit after giving up a couple of good scoring chances to the Wild. It was a scene reminiscent of the first four games in this series, where Minnesota had picked up early third period goals to either tighten the margin of the contests (Games 1,2) or seize control for good (Games 3, 4). This time however, the Blackhawks had other ideas.
As the puck made its way into the zone, Mikael Granlund and Toews both went for it in the corner. Toews ended up delivering a massive hit on the Finnish forward, and he jarred the puck loose. It worked its way to Marian Hossa, who made a nice play of his own to shield the puck and wait for a passing lane to open up. He found Patrick Sharp with a pass, and the Blackhawks winger put a shot on goal that Bryzgalov stopped.
Like he has at several other intervals in this series, Bryzgalov coughed up a rebound, but this time, Toews was there to take advantage. Getting inside position on the play, Toews crashed the front of the net and forced home a rebound to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead, and they’d hold on to win by that margin.
The goal was Toews’ fourth game winner of these playoffs, and it has the Blackhawks poised to advance to the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive year.