CHICAGO – They wanted to start stronger, play faster, show the depth that earned them the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion. The Chicago Blackhawks did all of the above on Friday night.
Led by two goals each from Patrick Sharp and Michael Frolik and another solid game in net by Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks downed the Minnesota Wild 5-2 at United Center in Game 2 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
They lead the series 2-0 and have a chance to back the Wild into a corner when the action shifts to Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minn. Game 3 is Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, RDS), followed by Game 4 on Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks came out flying and never stopped.
"There was big emphasis on that, to play good in the first [period] and I think we did that," said forward Patrick Kane, who assisted on both of Sharp's tallies in the third period. "There was a lot of talk about that, to get the pace going and to pick it up from where it was in Game 1 -- because I don't think we liked our pace in Game 1. That first period kind of set the tone for the game."
It was a pace the Wild couldn't match for all but a brief stretch in the second period, after Frolik's second goal – a shorthanded score – 49 seconds into the middle period had put Chicago up 2-0.
The Blackhawks outshot the Wild 48-28, including 17-7 in the first period and 17-6 in the third. They turned up the heat on Minnesota goalie Josh Harding (43 saves) right off the hop and rarely let off the gas.
"They were better tonight from Game 1 and we were worse, and that's kind of what you saw," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. "This was a team effort tonight, and unfortunately it wasn't a very good one."
Devin Setoguchi scored late in the second to cut the Blackhawks' lead to 2-1, but Sharp's two in the third provided a commanding 4-1 lead – which Bryan Bickell finished off by scoring his second goal of the series into an empty net to seal it.
Marco Scandella also scored his first career playoff goal late in the third for the Wild, who know they must be a lot better at home to stay in this series with the West's top seed.
"We need to focus on us," Setoguchi said. "I mean, that's a good team over there. We all know that. They're the No. 1 team in the League for a reason. I don't think we were even close to playing our kind of game and our typical game. Everyone's got to do it. It can't just be a couple of guys. We left [Harding] out there to dry,  shots."
Crawford made 26 saves for the win, while Harding took the loss while starting a second game in a row in place of injured Wild starter Niklas Backstrom – who was hurt in pregame warmups before the series opener on Tuesday.
The Blackhawks dominated early and controlled the first period. Harding still had the hot hand that he flashed in the series opener, and had it not been for his 16 saves, Chicago would've gone into the first intermission leading by more than 1-0.
Frolik's first goal, scored 8:34 into the game, was the only marker in the first. After a long shot by Andrew Shaw was deflected, the puck caromed right to Frolik near the bottom of the left circle. He quickly snapped it into the net past Harding's glove and Chicago finally cashed in after several early scoring chances were turned away.
The Blackhawks also had what appeared to be a goal by Kane off a rebound waived off because he kicked it in while trying to get it to his stick blade. It was clear by that point what kind of start the Blackhawks had in mind and they got what they sought.
Frolik then scored his second goal less than a minute into the second, with Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the penalty box, to make it 2-0.
After collecting the puck on a Wild turnover in the neutral zone, Frolik carried into the zone and gave it to Duncan Keith – who threw a backhand shot toward the net from the right circle. Again the shot was deflected by a Wild player and came straight to Frolik's stick in the slot. He buried it between Harding's pads and the Blackhawks appeared close to breaking the game open.
"I did not have that many [good bounces] in the season, kind of lucky bounces and it's nice to sometimes have those bounces," Frolik said. "Always when you score some goals, the confidence goes a little higher. Hopefully it's going to help me in the next few games and I can build on that."
The Wild gradually clawed back into the game after that, finally getting on the board thanks to Setoguchi's goal at 17:57. It would have been the game-tying goal had it not been for a memorable sequence by Crawford earlier in the period to keep the puck out of the net during a Minnesota power play.
After Brandon Bollig was called for boarding at 10:33, the Wild peppered the Blackhawks net with seven shots on goal during the ensuing man advantage. Zach Parise had five, with three in rapid-fire order at the goalmouth as he tried to jam a loose puck past Crawford's pad unsuccessfully.
In the third, Sharp's first goal of the playoffs and 24th postseason tally of his career made it 3-1 at 3:44 -- providing insurance and taking some air out of the Wild's comeback. After scooping up the puck behind the net, Sharp pulled it to his backhand and flipped a shot over Harding's shoulder from close range.
Sharp's second goal came off a perfect feed from Kane, who slid it to the left circle from the slot while avoiding traffic. Sharp banged the puck home into a wide-open side of the net to make it 4-1 with 5:52 left to play. The game was essentially decided and the Blackhawks knew they'd held serve on home ice.
"It's nice to score at home, nice to score in the playoffs," said Sharp, who had a frustrating regular season marred by a painful, lingering upper-body injury. "It's kind of a big goal to put us up two there in the third. It felt good, and hopefully it's the start of many more."