ONE GOAL II: Blackhawks Advance Past Wild in Conference Quarterfinals
The 2013 President's Trophy winners sailed through the opening round over Minnesota, 4-1
The following story originally appeared in 'One Goal II: The Inside Story of the 2013 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks'
As the Western Conference's No. 8 seed, the Minnesota Wild in theory presented a scant challenge. But as often pointed out, real games are played on ice and not on paper. After all, it had been only a year since the Los Angeles Kings snuck into the playoffs through the back door and defeated the top three seeds in the West en route to claiming their first title in franchise history.
Minnesota's roster certainly possessed weapons that could have caused misery for the Blackhawks over a seven-game stretch: the stalwart goaltender Niklas Backstrom, dynamic scoring threats in Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville and cornerstone acquisitions from the previous summer, forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter.
However, both teams entered Game 1 missing important personnel. The most debilitating blow to the Wild was an injury to Backstrom during pregame warmups; Pominville and Heatley were also still sidelined from late-season injuries. Chicago's no-play list included backup goaltender Ray Emery and perennial postseason soldier Dave Bolland. But the playoffs wait for no stragglers, so Chicago began their postseason journey, albeit a bit shakily. The Wild took an early lead in Game 1, but patience and skill won out in the end, as Bryan Bickell's overtime game-winner quashed the Wild's hopes of gaining a surprise series advantage.
Game 2 was much smoother for the Blackhawks, who received two-goal efforts from Michael Frolik and Patrick Sharp in a 5-2 win. If they thought the series would be a cakewalk, though, Game 3 in Minnesota was a reality check, as the Wild woke up and executed a stifling game plan to grab a 3-2 overtime win in front of their home crowd.
The Blackhawks dug deep in the next few days, in several fashions.
Exhibit A: Late in Chicago's off-day between games, defenseman Duncan Keith found out that he needed to charter a private jet to whisk him back to Chicago to witness the birth of his first child, Colton. He rejoined the team for Game 4 as a new dad, completing "a whirlwind 24 hours" by playing a team-high 23:57 in the 3-0 win.
Exhibit B: In that game, the Blackhawks defense showed their grit by blocking 26 shots, led by Johnny Oduya's handful, and Corey Crawford batted away or absorbed the 25 pucks that did sneak through for his second career playoff shutout.
Exhibit C: The penalty kill completed its toughest assignment yet, surviving six shorthanded stints. Through the first four contests, Minnesota had been luckless in 15 attempts, and by the end of the series, Chicago would remain the only team in the playoffs with a spotless penalty-killing record.
Game 5 was, comparatively, a calmer task, as the Blackhawks dispatched the Wild on the first try, courtesy of Marian Hossa's three-point night and another goal by Sharp, who finished the series with a team-high five tallies. Overall, Chicago trailed for less than 22 minutes in five games; they led for 152 minutes. Crawford's strong showing between the pipes resulted in a league-low 1.32 goals-against average, and his .950 save percentage ranked second at the time among the league's starting netminders.
Perhaps it was too easy - the squad, after coasting through the quarterfinals, was subject to more criticism than praise from Head Coach Joel Quenneville, at least publicly. Quenneville cited the need to play with even more of a competitive spirit: "There is another level we have to get to." His words would prove prescient in the next round.