Blackhawks defeat Wild in OT to close out series
By Jess Myers
The Sports Xchange
SAINT PAUL — If they need an overtime goal to end a playoff series, the Chicago Blackhawks know enough to get the puck to star forward Patrick Kane.
On Tuesday, Kane did it again, scoring off a fortunate bounce and lifting his team past the Minnesota Wild 2-1 to close out their best-of-seven playoff series 4-2 to advance to the Western Conference finals.
A dump-in shot hit a stanchion in the glass behind Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov and bounced to the front of the net. Kane pounced on the play, lifting a backhand shot into the upper reaches of the net, ending the series near the halfway mark of the first overtime.
“He’s a special player,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. Kane most famously scored the overtime winner in 2010 versus Philadelphia that won the Stanley Cup for Chicago. “Guys have that instinct, have that knack of finding pucks, wanting to be out there, wanting to score, and he does his thing.”
Right winger Kris Versteeg also scored for Chicago, which benefited from 34 saves by goaltender Corey Crawford in handing Minnesota its only home playoff loss of the season.
Rookie left winger Eric Haula scored the Wild’s only goal. Bryzgalov made 25 saves in the loss as the Wild finished the playoffs 5-1 on home ice.
“It hurts to lose, and we really believe that we were capable of doing more than just winning this game tonight, so, yeah,” a subdued Wildcoach Mike Yeo said. “Our guys did everything that we asked and they laid it on the line, and that’s what hurts. That’s what’s hard.”
Chicago, which beat the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals last season en route to winning the Stanley Cup, will face either the Kings or the Anaheim Ducks this season. Odd as it was, the overtime goal was just what Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said he expected from Kane.
“I told him before the period, half-jokingly, half serious, that it’s his time to shine and he finds a way to score the winning goal,” Toews said. “We’ll be happy no matter who scores it but it’s good for him and amazing to see what he’s done in past years in overtime situations.”
Less than two minutes into the first period, Minnesota found itself trailing at home for the first time in the 2014 playoffs. Versteeg won a battle for the puck in the corner, getting free of Wild defenseman Keith Ballard and heading to the net. Versteeg’s bad-angle shot deflected off the skate of a Wild player, bouncing up over Bryzgalov’s right shoulder and into the net. It was Versteeg’s first goal of the playoffs.
Minnesota responded early in the second period via Haula’s fourth goal of the playoffs. The speedy Finnish rookie took a pass from winger Matt Cooke that deflected off the boards by the far blue line, then out-raced a pair of Chicago defenders to the loose puck, springing himself on a breakaway. Haula’s quick wrist shot fooled Crawford to tie the game at 1.
The Wild had won games 3 and 4 at home, and after rallying to win the final two games of their first-round series with Colorado, fully expected to do the same versus Chicago. The sudden end to the game, the series and the season left them reeling.
“It’s tough to really summarize anything right now,” Haula said. “I don’t really know. I’d say right now, I have to take a few days and think about it all. Right now, it just feels empty.”
Over the course of the series, both teams accused the other of playing slow-down defensive hockey, but the sellout crowd saw nothing of the sort in a wide-open middle period that featured more than 20 shots on goal and breakaways in both ends of the ice. Bryzgalov, as he did in Game 4, thwarted center Patrick Sharp on a breakaway, while Wild rookie Justin Fontaine had two solo rushes to the Chicago net and was stopped by Crawford both times.
“It seemed to be a trend in this building that in the second period they out-played us,” Kane said, praising his goalie. “I’m sure he wasn’t happy with us and the way we were playing in front of him, but he did what he does. He’s a great goaltender and we feel he’s the best in the league.”
By contrast, Minnesota out-shot the Blackhawks 7-6 in a tightly played third period, holding Chicago without a shot for the first 12 minutes of the period. Chicago’s penalty killers kept Minnesota from gaining momentum early in the third period, holding the Wild to just two shots during four minutes of man advantage.
NOTES: Wild D Keith Ballard missed Game 5 with an upper-body injury but was back in the lineup on Tuesday and recorded Minnesota’s first shot on goal of the game. Ballard was injured when he was run hard into the end boards by Chicago LW Brandon Bollig in Game 4. Bollig was assessed a two-game suspension by the league for the hit. ... Chicago coaches are hopeful that C Andrew Shaw will begin skating in practice in the coming days. Shaw suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 of the series after being checked along the boards by Wild DClayton Stoner and has not skated or traveled with the team since then.