ST. PAUL – We interrupt this program from the State of Hockey for a message from the State of Shock.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Minnesota Wild tore through the second half of the regular season as if opponents were standing still, then stunned the division champion St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. Surely, the home team’s third assignment in as many springs against those hated Blackhawks would be the charm. For one thing, the Wild thought that at last they had the edge in goal, the most important position of them all.
Question: Since Corey Crawford took over there for the Blackhawks, how often has he outperformed the allegedly “better” masked adversary? It’s happened before and it happened again Tuesday night, when Crawford embraced the role as lead silencer in Xcel Energy Center by stifling the Wild 1-0 and bringing the Blackhawks one victory away from declaring a start to the local fishing season.
Crawford made 30 saves, none better than a flashy stick denial of Mikael Granlund, who had room to roam midway in the second period. By that time, the Blackhawks had achieved a lead they would not surrender on a power-play goal by Patrick Kane. How’s he doing for a fellow who went down with a collarbone injury in late February and was supposed to be idle for 12 weeks? A quick healer, Kane has scored a half dozen times this postseason.
“I’m starting to remember how to play hockey again,” deadpanned Kane, who is so animated and expressive on the ice. But when the game he loves is over, he speaks as if reading off a grocery list.
According to playoff lore, stars tend to cancel each other out and leave the heroics to lesser-known foot soldiers. The Blackhawks have torched that theory. Their aces have dominated. Witness Tuesday night’s presentation of the championship belt to Marian Hossa. His next goal will be his first this postseason, but he did his usual 200-foot drill and contributed to three penalty kills. But so did the not-so-famous, such as Marcus Kruger, as if to emphasize that the Blackhawks’ role players are also faring quite well. Teuvo Teravainen? After a cameo appearance in the Nashville series, he has rejoined playoff pressure and is thriving. Faceoffs: Blackhawks copped 63 percent.
The Blackhawks, after losing every postseason road opener since 2010 in San Jose, corrected that trend in Game 1 at Nashville. But the Wild had this winning streak in Game 3s, and 19,349 loud fans who didn’t want to think about fishing season knew all about it. However, the Blackhawks put forth a crucially strong opening period. The Wild took the first four shots, but it wasn’t as though Chicago was passive. Then, when Jared Spurgeon spilled Bryan Bickell, the enemy embarked on what would be its only man advantage of the evening.
And one was all the Blackhawks needed. Patrick Sharp attempted a pass, but the puck had a mind of its own. Fortunately for the Blackhawks, it found Andrew Shaw, who nudged it to Kane cruising down the left. He fired, and the puck burrowed between the pads of Devan Dubnyk, an iron curtain until three games ago. Kane incurred a strawberry on his forehead after Matt Dumba crunched him into the dasher. Otherwise, Chicago’s young genius continued to rehabilitate as only he can while a new guest in the building feverishly took notes.
Mike Stapleton, son of former Blackhawk star defenseman Pat, does reconnaissance for the Anaheim Ducks.