April 30, 2013
United Center, Chicago, Illinois
Chicago Blackhawks (36-7-5) at Minnesota Wild (26-19-3)
The last day of April brought the first day of the long-awaited 2013 NHL Playoffs. The Chicago Blackhawks were under pressure, expected to dominate the post-season after a regular season that was one of the best in league history.
The drama started before the puck was even dropped; Wild starting goalie Niklas Backstrom was injured in pre-game warmups after taking a puck in the shoulder. In came Josh Harding, after only playing in 5 games due to his battle with MS.
It wasn’t the best start possible for the Blackhawks. Corey Crawford let in a weak Cal Clutterbuck wrister, and the Wild had the first goal of the series on their very first shot. It brought back some sour memories for Blackhawks fans; Crawford let in several bad goals the year previous against Phoenix.
The Blackhawks, under scrutiny for being undersized and not physical, were knocked around in the first, but the tables turned for the next 40 minutes. Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalrmarsson highlighted some of the Blackhawks’ checks, and they ended up with 40 hits in the game to Minnesota’s 37.
The score would stay the same for the remainder of the first period. Just over two minutes into the second, the Blackhawks got on the board, when Marian Hossa took a feed from Patrick Kane and slipped it between Harding’s legs. The action remained back-and-forth, but there was no further scoring in the frame.
The Blackhawks thought they took the lead early in the third. In a huge scramble, the hawks took half a dozen whacks at the loose puck, and Jonathan Toews finally batted it in, but not before the whistle blew. This drew a loud round of boos from the standing-room crowd at the United Center, but the game went on.
Just a few minutes after that, the Blackhawks caught their break when Jason Zucker put the puck right across the crease behind Crawford.
After five of their six 2012playoff games went to extra time, the Blackhawks found themselves in familiar territory.
Both teams had a chance to end it; Hossa came streaking in, but was denied with a deflection by Harding. Zach Parise had a point-blank wrist shot, but Crawford steered it away with the blocker.
Then Bryan Bickell happened.
One of the most overlooked things about the play is Johnny Oduya’s pass. Under pressure, he made a football-like pass that Viktor Stalberg could skate under, and deliver to Bickell for the winner.
The Blackhawks got the win, but it was not as easy as some made it to be. The Wild came out firing, but the Blackhawks were able to stifle the initial attack, and delivered with offense of their own. Corey Crawford handled the pressure well after a dissapointing season, and the Blackhawks’ depth delivered on top of a strong performance from their stars. Most importantly, the Blackhawks took the first step towards the Stanley Cup.
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