Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg have developed a nice little rapport this season.
The Blackhawks’ third line has provided energy, provided some solid defense and provided some good minute-soaking play.
On Tuesday, they provided the game-winner.
Viktor Stalberg had the setup pass, and Bryan Bickell scored the winner with 3:25 remaining in overtime as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in Game 1 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series on Tuesday. It was a game that ended well for the Blackhawks, even though it didn’t start that way. But the Blackhawks’ role players, who have contributed at key times this season, did it again.
Johnny Oduya lifted the puck high of the Blackhawks’ zone, and Stalberg caught up with the puck. He made a quick pass to Bickell, who waited, then slipped a backhand shot past Josh Harding for the victory.
“That was one of the nicer plays I’ve seen him make this season,” Stalberg said of Bickell with a grin. “Our line was playing pretty well all night, generating chances. We got some extra time in OT and we were able to get it done. It’s a poised finish by (Bickell) there. I didn’t expect him to make that move, but what a great finish.”
Bickell said “it was just a read to jump into the play and get that opportunity. We had a lot of chances. Good play by (Oduya) to get the high flip.”
[Watch: Crawford's huge save keeps the Blackhawks alive in overtime]
Things got interesting before the game even began, as Wild starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom got injured during the pregame warmups. Backstrom, who was hurt while stretching to his right for a rebound, was helped off the ice by a trainer.
Enter Josh Harding, who had played just five games this season. But Harding was a formidable goalie on this night, stopping 35 of 37 shots and stymieing the Blackhawks at several turns.
Harding, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, drew the respect of the Blackhawks.
“Everyone knows his story this year and he’s one of those guys, I’m sure, who wants to step up in the playoffs. He played a heck of a game tonight,” Toews said. “We can expect the same thing from him next game. But we want to get on him more and make his job tougher than tonight.”
[More: On short notice, Harding dazzles in net for Wild]
Certainly, this wasn’t the Blackhawks’ best start. Almost to a man, they said that afterward. They showed little luster and were slower coming out of the gate than they would’ve liked. Corey Crawford didn’t get off to the best start either, as Cal Clutterbuck scored on the Wild’s first shot of the game, one that Crawford should’ve had, for a 1-0 lead in the first.
“I just lost it halfway and was never able to really see it come in,” Crawford said of the goal. “It was tough to get over, but I was just trying to find a way to get myself back in the game. I was able to make a couple saves after that to get into it and play solid after that.”
Indeed, he did. And so did the rest of the Blackhawks. They slowly got back into this one, building a head of steam that continued through the end of regulation and into overtime.
“We didn’t like our start, our first period, but we progressed and found a way which is something we’re pleased with,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “But we have to be better.”
[Watch: Joel Quenneville's postgame press conference]
The Blackhawks found a way once again. They got contributions from their role players once again. This team is built on every player having a chance to contribute. On Tuesday, they did.
“It’s been a key line for us; they can do different jobs, score goals, check and be physical,” Toews said. “They’re proving they can play a huge role in this one.”