By Allan Muir
The Chicago Blackhawks needed more than a win against the Minnesota Wild Friday night. They needed to prove, to themselves if no one else, that they could correct the mistakes that permeated their play in the series opener.
Chances are they’re feeling a lot better after Game 2.
The Hawks fired 77 shots toward Wild goalie Josh Harding. They pursued the puck relentlessly. They took full advantage of their speed and creativity. And they made Minnesota’s top players look like overmatched Pee Wees in a decisive 5-2 win.
Here are four key takeaways from the game:
• The stat of the night? The Blackhawks are 27-0-3 this season when Patrick Sharp is in the lineup. “Just got to make sure I play every game, then, right?” he joked after scoring a pair of goals. Sharp missed 20 games during the regular season with various injuries, and while the Hawks obviously managed just fine without him, it’s hard to imagine them going all the way without his ability to contribute in all three zones.
• Not to diminish another fine performance from Harding—who set a franchise record with his 43 saves tonight—but this game turned on another solid effort from Corey Crawford. Specifically, his one-man penalty kill in the second that snuffed any comeback hopes the Wild held while the Hawks nursed a 2-0 lead. Crawford made seven saves during the frantic Minnesota blitz, including four on Zach Parise from close range along with a dangerous re-direct off the stick of Ryan Suter.
Crawford put together a spectacular regular season—he and partner Ray Emery shared the Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed—but his reputation is still colored in broad strokes by his spectacular failings during the 2012 playoffs. Since allowing that softie to Cal Clutterbuck early in Game 1, he’s played like someone fully capable of taking this team on a deep run.
• Go ahead and call Michal Frolik a prime-time player. After scoring just three goals this season, he polished his rep for failing to deliver in the regular season, but tonight’s game was a reminder that he comes up big when it matters. With his pair of goals, he now has six in 13 career playoff games. Neither was a work of art, but by driving the net and pouncing on rebounds he showed the commitment to scoring the way it has to be done this time of year.
It’ll be worth watching to see how this impacts his confidence around the net. Depth is regarded as the possible difference maker for Chicago this spring, so if the fourth line starts chipping in, they’ll be on the right path.
• Suter and Jonas Brodin were minus-2. Parise and Mikko Koivu each earned a minus-3. For the Wild to have any chance at turning this into a series when the scene shifts to St. Paul on Sunday, their best players have to be better players. To be fair, Parise did have seven shots go along with six hits, but he’s not being paid to simply compete. He has to produce. If he doesn’t, this set won’t get to a Game 5.