ST. PAUL, Minn. – Corey Crawford was stoic on one end, stopping shot after shot, sometimes square, sometimes sprawling.
On the other side, the Chicago Blackhawks got glimpses of offense, but again struggled vs. a Minnesota Wild team that’s bottled them up throughout this series. But the postseason, and especially overtime, is about bounces and taking advantage of them. And about 10 minutes into overtime, the Blackhawks did.
Patrick Kane scored the overtime winner, his second of this postseason, off a funny hop and Crawford stopped 34 of 35 as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 2-1 in Game 6 of their second-round series. The Blackhawks eliminated the Wild, 4-2, and now await the winner of the Anaheim Ducks-Los Angeles series. The Ducks lead that series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Wednesday. If the Ducks win, they’ll host the Blackhawks; if the Kings come back to win that series, the Blackhawks get home ice.
Kris Versteeg scored his first goal of the postseason, a funny-hop score that gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead just 1:58 into the game. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith assisted on Kane’s winner.
It wasn’t the prettiest series the Blackhawks have ever played. In fact it was much like last year’s first-round stint vs. the Wild. But the Blackhawks find a way and find an answer from someone who’s done this a few times.
“He’s a special player,” coach Joel Quenneville said of Kane. “(Some) guys have that instinct, that knack of finding pucks, of wanting to be out there, wanting to score. He does his thing.”
What started it however, was odd. Seabrook threw a pass into the Wild zone, the puck hit the stanchion and bounced in front of the net. While Peter Regin and Ryan Suter battled, Kane picked up the puck and scored. Kane credited it to some luck, but there aren’t many who pull off that forehand-to-backhand goal, his fourth career postseason overtime winner.
“Whatever it is, if the luck finds me or the heavens above give me some blessings in overtime, I’ll keep taking it,” Kane said. “We have a bunch of guys with experience; everyone’s done it. But it’s always exciting when you do.”
Keith said, “I think we got lucky on the bounce there, but we didn’t get lucky with the way he scored it. That’s a skilled player, and we were able to hang onto the puck in the neutral zone and make a good play to get it in deep.”
Special describes Crawford’s night, too. The goaltender was stellar in stopping 34 of 35 shots, including 13 of 14 in the second period when the Wild were pushing at the Blackhawks most. Couple that with 21 Blackhawks blocks and a few shots that found iron, and the Wild offense was stymied.
Crawford had an easy way to rate his game.
“I don’t know. I rate it a win, that’s the only thing that counts,” said Crawford, who also credited teammates. “I felt pretty good tonight. Our D-men made some big plays, too, on a couple pucks that were sitting there in the blue. They came up big on those ones. It’s just sticking with it throughout the whole game and just giving our guys a chance.”
That, he did. Kane joked the team may owe Crawford an apology.
“I’m sure he wasn’t happiest with us with how we were playing in front of him,” he said with a laugh. “It seems to be a trend in this building, in the second period, that they outplay us. But (Crawford) did what he does. He’s a great goaltender, and we feel he’s the best in the league for that reason.”
The Blackhawks will take a breath now. They didn’t play their best hockey against the Wild but they did show that resiliency that has become commonplace the past few postseasons. And, no, a bounce here or there never hurts, either.
“I think everyone wanted to be the guy who scored the goal tonight,” Kane said. “It was a great goaltender effort by Crawford and we keep getting better and better. It didn’t matter who was scoring tonight; I think we knew it was in this locker room.”