Jonathan Toews scored the go-ahead goal early in the third period, and Corey Crawford did the rest as the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the Minnesota Wild by a score of 2-1 on Sunday night.
Bryan Bickell also scored for the Blackhawks, and Erik Haula scored the lone goal of the game for Minnesota as the Hawks pull to within one game of clinching a berth in the Western Conference Final.
Things did not get off to a good start for the Blackhawks, as Brent Seabrook was sent off in the first 30 seconds of the game for a tripping minor. Corey Crawford was able to bail his teammate out with a couple of great saves early in the sequence, and he also got some help. After a great pass from Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund fired a shot that barely missed the net as it hit the post and skipped away, killing off the penalty.
The two teams began exchanging scoring chances as the period wore on, and both sides came close to taking the lead. Ilya Bryzgalov made his first good save of the day as Niklas Hjalmarsson collected a pass in the slot and blasted a slapshot, and Justin Fontaine followed that up by getting the puck in the face-off circle, but it ricocheted off the post and bailed Crawford out again.
With about four minutes remaining in the first period, the Wild ended up getting on the board first. Duncan Keith got tangled up with Fontaine in the neutral zone, but the officials didn’t call an interference penalty. Erik Haula took advantage of the free release he got as a result, and he put a shot on net that Crawford stopped. No Blackhawk came to the net to help clear the rebound away, and Haula’s follow-up shot bounced off of Crawford’s pad and ended up tumbling into the net to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead.
When the second period began, the Blackhawks began to assert their will in a period for the first time in recent memory. Through the first eight minutes of the frame, the Hawks racked up seven shots on goal, and even though Bryzgalov was up to the task, he looked a bit tentative and showed some bad rebound control as the Hawks continued to press.
The momentum the Hawks generated was enough to grab a power play opportunity, and the team made the most of it. After a quick pass from Patrick Sharp as the team established possession, Patrick Kane took his time as he made his way through the slot. Once Bickell got into position in front of the net, Kane fired a shot towards the goal, and after the puck deflected off of Bickell, it bounced past Bryzgalov and into the net to tie things up at 1-1.
In the second half of that period, the Blackhawks had several more opportunities, and the fourth line was the group really bringing the heat in those closing minutes. Peter Regin made a couple of nice plays to get pucks to the net, and Ben Smith and Joakim Nordstrom did a nice job of using their physicality to create lanes for shots. None of them went, but the Hawks definitely had some momentum as the second period came to an end.
When the third period got underway, the Hawks took a couple of quick punches by the Wild, but eventually the defending champions settled down and scored a goal to take the lead. Jonathan Toews set everything up when he blasted Mikael Granlund in the corner with a hit, and after Marian Hossa and Sharp worked the puck to the front of the net, Toews was able to pound home the rebound to light the lamp and give the team a 2-1 lead just five minutes into the period.
The Hawks continued to assert themselves offensively as the third period wore on, and they also began to get chippier from a physical standpoint too. Kris Versteeg made his presence felt near the benches around the halfway point of the period when he got into a bit of a shoving match with Matt Cooke, and the bad blood continued to simmer through the rest of the game.
In the late stages of the third period, the Wild pulled Bryzgalov from the goal with more than two minutes remaining, but the Hawks missed a couple of chances to score. Hossa had the best chance of all, but he overskated the puck in the neutral zone to keep the game going.
Ryan Suter made a really nice play after Patrick Kane hustled down the ice to cancel out an icing call, firing a stretch pass down the ice to Parise. The Wild forward nearly pushed a shot into the goal, but Crawford remained strong on his post and kept his team in front for good.
The Blackhawks will have an opportunity to close out the series on Tuesday night when they travel back to Minnesota for Game 6 of the series. Puck drop is scheduled for 8pm Central time.