Blackhawks dodge big bullet, take Game 1 in OT win over the Wild

Hawks dodge big bullet, take Game 1 in OT win over the Wild

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Tuesday night's 2-1 overtime victory by the Chicago Blackhawks over the Minnesota Wild is one of 16 conquests needed to hoist the Stanley Cup. Although it was only one win, the importance of the outcome can't be overstated.

If the Wild came away with a Game 1 victory without their starting goaltender, one of their best forwards and a top four defender defenseman who played sparingly, it would have been a huge confidence builder. Fortunately for the Blackhawks they still have a chance to retain home ice advantage. With a more complete performance on Friday this could still be a short series for the Hawks, but the Wild deserve a great deal of respect.

If the Wild came through with an overtime tally this would have been a playoff victory remembered by their fans forever.

Minnesota's starting goalie Niklas Backstrom was hurt in pregame warm-ups. Backstrom had to be helped off the ice after suffering a lower body injury, possibly to his hip. Ironically Josh Harding, who last started a game on January 30 versus Chicago, was pressed into action. In that start, Harding was pulled after surrendering two goals on four shots.

Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis before the season began. After his late January performance, Harding left the team for about two months while he adjusted to his medication. Harding's effort Tuesday night was top rate and under the circumstances could be called outstanding. To be able to play in the NHL with MS is a remarkable accomplishment.

Right winger Jason Pominville was a blue chip trade deadline acquisition and he was out injured as well. Pominville is still suffering from the effects of an elbow to the head delivered by Los Angeles forward Dustin Brown in an April 23 game. The Wild are not known to have an abundance of offensive ability and the Pominville loss is significant. Minnesota is also without the services of forward Dany Heatley who is out for the season after undergoing left shoulder surgery in early April.

Tuesday night, defenseman Clayton Stoner, who has played around 15-20 minutes per game, was limited to 10 shifts and 7:10 of ice time. Stoner got hit hard by Andrew Shaw in the opening period and had to leave the game. He did later return but didn't see much action.

There were many reasons the Wild could have folded their tent early, to their credit the opposite was true.

Minnesota took an early lead on a soft goal allowed by Corey Crawford and grew ever more confident as the game wore on. If the Blackhawks underestimated the Wild before the series began they should now be fully aware of the will of their opponent.

The Blackhawks did improve as the game went on but their opening 40 minutes left a lot to be desired. They were not crisp and were guilty of many offside calls. The passing wasn't sharp and Duncan Keith had a forgettable performance. As a team the Hawks didn't seem to really get into sync until the third period and fortunately it wasn't too late.

The opening frame could not have gone much better for the Wild who had only six shots on goal but came away with 1-0 lead. Crawford was surprised by a long shot by agitator Cal Clutterbuck. To make matters worse, the goal came on Minnesota's first shot and imagine the heat Crawford would be taking Wednesday if the Hawks lost the game. To Crawford's credit he was very sharp afterwards and it was a good thing or the Hawks would be trailing in this series.

Under the circumstances if the Wild came away with a Game 1 victory it might have been too much for the Blackhawks to overcome. Or at the very least the Hawks and Wild could be headed for a long grueling series. Maybe most important is Crawford rebounded and survived the night without being labeled the reason for the loss.

The depth of the Blackhawks made a difference as the third line of Andrew Shaw, Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell shined. As mentioned here a short time ago the entire team needs to play a third line type of game against the Wild.

On the game winners, Shaw started the play with a big hit and then Johnny Oduya made a great pass off the glass and over the head of Ryan Suter. Stalberg chased the puck down, sped away and made a perfect pass to Bickell who was streaking for the Wild net. The big winger looked like a true goal scorer as he slid the puck between the legs of a sliding Harding and Game 1 was in the bank.

The Hawks first goal came on a sweet pass by Patrick Kane to Marian Hossa who connected on an early second period power play. On the scoring play, Kane looked like one of the best playmakers in the NHL. Not many could have made the same type of a pass.

Keith's effort was the biggest disappointment but Hossa was at the top of his game. Hossa was a relentless backchecker and was very strong on the puck. He alone was cause to wear out the Wild defensive unit and seemed to have the puck in the offensive zone more than any other Blackhawk. Hossa is unbelievably strong with the puck on his stick, as the Wild know so well.

In post game comments, Crawford remarked it was a big win and he didn't know what else to say. Let me add it was not only a big win but the Hawks dodged a huge bullet. Blackhawk fans can breathe a collective sigh of a relief.

The best teams win when they aren't at their best. This is not meant to any way short change the Wild, but that was certainly the case in Game 1.

Al's Shots

The truest indicator of a head coach's opinion of a player's performance is depicted by minutes played.

Michal Rozsival led all Chicago players with 27:11 of ice time. Next was Johnny Oduya with 26:47 of playing time.

Those two logged more minutes than Keith who made everything look difficult as he needs to step his play up a few notches for Game 2.

Rozsival, who I often think is held together with duct tape and paste, was great and the same could be said for Oduya. The duo is considered the third pairing and to have them lead the team in playing time says a lot about the depth of this year's Blackhawks.

Hawk fans should hope Rozsival doesn't wilt under a grueling playoff schedule.

Suter earned every penny of his mega contract Tuesday night as he recorded an incredible 41:08 of ice time to lead all players by a wide margin.

The Hawks fourth line wasn't used much at all during the opening two periods. They made some impact in the late going but were outplayed by the fourth liners of the Wild.

Patrick Sharp led all players with five shots on goal. Maybe Sharp would be more successful if he tried testing Harding's stick side, which is his left.

I will be back on Saturday morning and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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