Not without a certain degree of difficulty, the Blackhawks moved halfway toward dismissing the Minnesota Wild with a 5-2 conquest at the United Center Friday night. Opening series in Stanley Cup Playoffs are fraught with danger, as seen by what’s happening to the Pittsburgh Penguins, top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Blackhawks are up 2-0 on the western side, largely because they obeyed Joel Quenneville, the most interesting coach in the world. According to Michael Frolik and Patrick Sharp—each of whom scored twice—instructions from above were to fire the puck and save the fancy stuff for another day.
In Game 1 on Tuesday night, the Blackhawks’ customary flow was strangled by a combination of incomplete passes and obstructed views of Wild goalie Josh Harding. But Friday night, the home team played more on its terms and the pace improved, as 48 shots would indicate.
Sharp, restricted by injury during the regular season, ran his record to a perfect 27-0-3, but not before he crunched Jonas Brodin, who almost required a spatula to get back on his blades. Brandon Bollig also threw his body around, and Corey Crawford did everything one could ask of a goalkeeper.
As for sound effects, the later the louder at the UC. A start time of 8:30 for national television apparently only enhanced anticipation. One can’t be sure what 22,012 did with the extra preparation—although one can guess—but everybody arrived in good throat. Friday nights have become a big deal at on Madison Street, and Friday nights during the playoffs are another dimension.
Also, it seemed like a virtual red-out in the building. Home sweaters are always fashionable, but on this night, if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought management was giving them away instead of rally towels. Long ago, when the Blackhawks gave nothing away, home games began at 8:30 p.m, though not at the behest of television.
Frolik, an effective penalty killer with Marcus Kruger this season, scored at 8:34 of the first period. Early in the second, with Jonathan Toews off for a penalty, the Wild got caught in a reverse and Frolik pounced to click again. It was 2-0, a score that accurately conveyed how deftly Crawford performed. During one Minnesota power play, the visitors flailed away at a puck on his doorstop as if they were beating dust out of a rug.
Crawford later yielded to Devin Setoguchi, and the lead was halved. But Sharp tallied twice in the third period, both assisted by Patrick Kane, who could have danced all night. Bryan Bickell punctured an open net to make it 5-2, and Coach Q appeared almost pleased afterward. He might even watch the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Game 3 will be Sunday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center, where the Blackhawks absorbed their first smudge of any kind when they fell, 3-2, in a shootout on Jan. 30. That brought their record to 6-0-1. They return 2-0, which is all you can ask.