With a more complete, dominant performance than Game One, the Chicago Blackhawks handled their business at home and will take a 2-0 series lead to Minnesota.
In this victory, the Hawks continued to answer many of the questions doubters had coming into the postseason.
Many fans have continued to question Corey Crawford throughout the regular season and into the playoffs, but he has performed well in big situations through two games. On Friday night, he stymied a second period flurry and earned a second victory in the series. With 26 more saves against 28 shots, Crawford boasts a .945 save percentage in the series.
And Crawford has needed to be good; Josh Harding has been exceptional in spite of the two losses. Harding faced 47 shots on Friday night, allowing four goals. Through two games, Harding has allowed six goals against 84 shots (a .929 save percentage).
Another concern for the Hawks was their response to the increase in physical play in the postseason. When we previewed the series, we noted that the Hawks and Wild were both near (or, in the Hawks’ case, at) the bottom of the league in hits during the regular season. But this series has broken away from that trend.
Through two games, Chicago has piled up 75 hits already. To put that into perspective, the Hawks averaged only 17.5 hits per game during the regular season.
The series between the Blues and Kings appeared to be the most physical in the Western Conference entering the postseason, and has been so far. St. Louis and Los Angeles have combined for an NHL playoff-high 155 hits in their first two games; the Hawks and Wild have combined for 154.
While the Blackhawks powerplay continues to be a gong show, their penalty kill has been outstanding. Michael Frolik’s second goal of the night was the first short-handed tally allowed by the Wild this year; the Hawks have now scored as many goals while the Wild have had an advantage in the series as they have scored while on the powerplay.
Frolik was the story of the night early, opening the scoring in the first period and then adding his short-handed goal in the second. He has been credited two blocked shots, three hits and three takeaways in the first two games of the series, and continues to be a key member of the Hawks’ penalty kill unit that remains perfect against six Wild powerplays.
Patrick Sharp had struggled to put the puck in the net all season, but especially since coming back from his shoulder injury late in the regular season. Thanks to hard work in front of the net on his first goal and a gorgeous pass from Patrick Kane on his second, Sharp knocked off the dust in a big way on Friday night.
For Kane, the two assists give him three in the series. He also has four takeaways thus far.
But the Hawks haven’t received dominant performances, at least on the scoreboard, from their superstars… yet. Of the seven goals they have scored in the first two games, four have come from Bryan Bickell and Frolik (two each) while Sharp (two) and Marian Hossa (one) have the only three from the team’s top six.
However, the scoreboard has been the only place the Hawks’ big names haven’t been stars. Jonathan Toews has won 64.4 percent of his faceoffs in two games, while Hossa and Saad have combined for eight hits.
On Friday night, Saad put seven shots on net. Only Sharp, with eight, had more for the Hawks; Sharp now has 13 shots on net through two games.
The Blackhawks speed, especially from the third line, has been too much for the Wild so far. Bickell had a team-high six hits (tied with Brandon Bollig) on Friday night, giving him eight in two games. Viktor Stalberg has an assist and four hits, and Andrew Shaw has a team-leading nine hits while winning 12 of 25 faceoffs through two contests.
Bollig also has nine hits in two games, and has only served one penalty in 25 shifts.
For Minnesota, big money Zach Parise led the team with six hits and seven shots on goal on Friday night… but was minus-three. Meanwhile, the Hawks have completely frustrated Mikko Koivu. The Wild captain has won only 43.6 percent of his faceoffs and has been called for four penalties in the first two games of the series.
On a night when the Pittsburgh Penguins gave up a 3-1 lead at home in Sidney Crosby’s return and lost to the Islanders, the Hawks took a dominant step forward. In the Western Conference, the Blackhawks, Blues and Sharks now hold 2-0 advantages heading to their respective Game Threes.