Rarely do the Blackhawks players and coaches sell a game in early February as their “biggest of the season.” But Wednesday night’s game in Minnesota against the first place Wild received that level of hype from Chicago players, and the game backed up their words.
Both teams brought playoff intensity right out of the gate. The stars were playing hard, and the Blackhawks’ youngsters made an impact right away. Each team put 10 shots on net in the opening 20 minutes, with one getting past a goaltender.
Vinnie Hinostroza carried the puck into the offensive zone and made a perfect pass to an attacking Ryan Hartman for his 13th goal of the season.
Corey Crawford had a strong first period, and needed to come up big in the second just to keep his teammates in the game.
Jonathan Toews set up Nick Schmaltz for a second goal from a Blackhawks rookie.
Schmaltz’s fourth of the season gave the Blackhawks a two-goal lead, but that margin lasted only 37 seconds. Chicago’s trend of allowing goals within a minute of scoring continued as Jared Spurgeon beat Crawford.
After the Spurgeon goal, the Wild dominated the play for almost ten minutes. Crawford made big stop after big stop, but he eventually gave up a second goal to Zach Parise.
But no playoff-level game in the NHL can happen without the officials crapping all over the contest, and they were on center stage after the Parise goal. Chicago challenged the play and the officials reviewed the play – on an iPhone – for what felt like a half hour.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) February 9, 2017
This, apparently, was inconclusive.
The lengthy review took the wind out of the Wild’s sails and leveled the playing field a bit, and the play over the second half of the second period was closer with the teams trading scoring chances. Crawford and Darcy Kuemper were good, but the Hawks were able to beat Kuemper once more in the second.
Toews picked up his second assist of the night on Richard Panik’s 12th goal of the season.
When the dust settled after 40 minutes of hockey, Chicago held a 3-2 lead on the scoreboard but were being out-shot 29-20.
The third period saw a focused Blackhawks team blocking shots in front of Crawford and continuing to get exceptional play between the pipes. Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook each had big blocked shots as the Hawks tried to improve from allowing 19 shots in the second period.
Chicago’s defense held strong for 17 minutes, but another hard rush by the Wild finally beat Crawford. Aided by Eric Staal blocking Hjalmarsson in the back at the blue line, Erik Haula was able to put a shot past Crawford to tie the game at three with 3:03 on the clock.
This went uncalled:
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) February 9, 2017
Had the officials done their job, the score would have been 3-1 in favor of Chicago. But the Wild once again had momentum in a tie game. Joel Quenneville will never use poor officiating as an excuse, but this game was clearly, significantly impacted by two blown calls.
And when the officials took the night off, why not play overtime?
Ryan Suter was sent to the box half way into overtime after he used Marian Hossa’s face as part of a swim move. On the power play, Toews deposited the game-winning goal to give him a three-point night and move him past Jeremy Roenick on the franchise’s all-time leaderboard. Toews now sits alone in ninth with 597 regular season points with the Hawks.
Crawford was magnificent, better than the three goals against would indicate. He made 35 saves in the win.
Toews, who many have offered to drive to the airport over the course of this season, was dominant. He won 13 of 26 faceoffs and put five shots on net in 18:49 on the ice. He now has 11 points in his last seven games.
Seabrook and Hinostroza led Chicago with two hits each. Hjalmarsson blocked a team-high five shots, while Marcus Kruger was credited with three blocked shots up front. Kruger only took one faceoff in the game; Tanner Kero won five of seven and Artem Anisimove won six of eight at the dot.
Keith had two assists and Panik had an assist with his goal for a multi-point night. Patrick Kane had two assists and led Chicago with six shots on net, but he was minus-two in the game.