Jonathan Toews described his goal as “ugly,” but to the Blackhawks and their anxious fans, it was a masterpiece right out of the captain’s ever-expanding scrapbook. A work of art celebrating the art of work.
Toews initiated the rush by applying a big hit on Mikael Granlund, then headed toward the net as if he had decided he would not leave there until the red light told him he could leave. If he happened to be the guy who scored, fine.
Buffeted by a couple members of the Minnesota Wild, Toews held his ground until, on sheer will and sheer skill, he rapped the puck past Ilya Bryzgalov. The goal at 4:33 of the third period Sunday night brought the Blackhawks a 2-1 victory at the United Center and a 3-2 lead in this grinder of a playoff series.
Toews registered the winner in Game 5 of the previous tournament against the St. Louis Blues, and this Game 5 was pivotal because the Wild aren’t going anywhere except home, where they are undefeated and where they based their surprise resurgence against the Colorado Avalanche, who were up 2-0 and 3-2 in that round but couldn’t finish the job.
Toews is the consummate closer, of course. The Blackhawks have won seven playoff games this post season, and he’s bagged the winner in four of them. He had 10 game-winning playoff goals already for his career, more than any mortal or immortal in the history of this franchise.
“He’s unbelievable,” praised Marian Hossa, who assisted on the tie-breaker as he, Toews and Patrick Sharp reunited as a line, at least until further notice. The Blackhawks did not start Sunday night as smoothly as they concluded it, and when they left the ice down 1-0 after the first period, the sound track from scattered customers was reminiscent of what you used to hear ten years ago.
The Blackhawks might have wanted to boo themselves, for they were unable to harass Bryzgalov, who was once again doing his Vladislav Tretiak impression. The Wild showed absolutely no signs of stage fright. It was the home team that seemed tentative, even clumsy on occasion.
But in the second period, the Blackhawks found increased skating room, those stretch passes they so relish were more plentiful, and a power-play goal by Bryan Bickell restored the festive mood for 22,016. Peter Regin, who played quite nicely, was hooked boring in on Tretiak — I mean, Bryzgalov — and with a man advantage, Patrick Kane threw the puck into traffic from the right circle. Bickell deflected, and it was 1-1.
Corey Crawford, beaten after a rink-length dash by Erik Haula in the 17th minute, can tell you about congestion. With 2:17 remaining in the third period, Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo pulled his goalie, Minnesota won a draw in Chicago’s end, and Crawford had to repel not one, not two, but three attempts.
Then Bryzgalov returned to his net, and the Wild returned to Crawford’s. After one flurry, half the bodies on the ice — some from Minnesota, some Blackhawks — were stacked up in the blue paint, like they were looking for a lost contact lens. Crawford, tight-fisted, was excellent until the final siren, after which each side picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Those infractions will not carry over to Game 6 Tuesday night, but the mood might.