ST. PAUL, Minn. – It wasn’t the prettiest game the Blackhawks ever played. In fact, it was pretty black and blue. But on a night when they went to the penalty box plenty, their penalty kill came up plenty big.
Patrick Sharp scored twice and the Blackhawks killed off six Minnesota Wild power plays en route to a 3-0 victory at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks took a 3-1 lead over the Wild in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series, using a strong kill and 26 blocked shots to truly stymie the Wild.
Duncan Keith, who went back to Chicago in the middle of the night to be there for the birth of his first child this morning, returned to play a team-high 23:57 in Game 4. It was a whirlwind day for him and the defenseman, who last slept Sunday night, figured he “might sleep until the next game.”
Bryan Bickell added a late goal, his third of the postseason. Johnny Oduya had a team-high five blocked shots and Michal Rozsival added four.
But be it Keith’s minutes, the penalty kill or the blocks, the Blackhawks did what they needed to do.
“I thought the PK was outstanding and it starts with the goaltender,” Joel Quenneville said of Corey Crawford, who stopped all 25 shots he saw for his second career postseason shutout. “Six [penalty kills] is an abnormal number for us. Two or three is usually our quota. But we did an outstanding job blocking shots, on clears, with dangerous plays and big saves. It all goes hand in hand. Commend them for an outstanding job.”
Meanwhile, it was another bizarre night for Wild netminders. Jonathan Toews was driving toward the net and fell on top of starter Josh Harding late in the first period. Harding, who’s started the last four games for the injured Niklas Backstrom, was slow to get up and flexed his left leg several times. Harding would finish the first, but Darcy Kuemper, who played in just six previous NHL games, led the Wild out to start the second.
Kuemper got a rude “hello.” The first shot he saw was from Sharp, who scored his second of the night 1:02 into the second period.
“I was going to shoot; it didn’t matter who was in net,” said Sharp, who has four postseason goals. “When you can gain the blue line with speed and use the defenseman as a screen, it’s a good idea to shoot the puck. More often than not, those go in. I know they’re going to make a big deal that it was [Kuemper’s] first shot. But he’s a good goalie; he sees pucks and makes saves. I was going to shoot it either way.”
Crawford, meanwhile, was especially strong early when the Blackhawks were struggling out of the gate once again. He remained solid throughout and was grateful for the sticks, bodies and other blocking parts in front of him.
“It helps a lot,” Crawford said of the blocked-shot total. “Our PK definitely won us the game tonight. We blocked a lot of shots and cleared pucks when we needed to. It was definitely a big effort and a good job by all of our guys on the kill.”
Crawford said, despite all those penalties, the Blackhawks remained calm when it came time to kill.
“We didn’t freak out on refs or lose it on each other,” Crawford said. “We just stuck with it, played hard and obviously came through.”
The Blackhawks did come through and are now just one victory away from claiming this first-round series. It wasn’t pretty. But the end result was pretty good.
“[The Wild] were moving well, skating, seeing a lot of pucks and our PK stepped up and played well. It was probably the key part of the game,” Sharp said. “Any time you can shut down a team like that on five, six or seven power plays, whatever they had, you’re doing something right.”