CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks are in a place they haven’t been since winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. With a 3-1 lead in their first-round, best-of-seven series against the Wild, the Blackhawks are on the verge of winning in the first round for the first time in three seasons.
“I feel like the series is never over until the final buzzer sounds,” said Chicago forward Patrick Sharp, who has scored four goals in the past two games. “We expect Minnesota to come in and play their best game of the series here in Game 5. They’ve got a lot of character, so no question they’re going to show up and play hard tomorrow.
“We have a great opportunity to end the series, use our building, use our fans to our advantage.”
The Blackhawks still are smarting from their Game 3 loss in St. Paul.
“This is a chance to redeem ourselves for the way we played in Game 3,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Everyone’s saying we haven’t played our best game yet in this series, so we got to get as close to that as we can.”
Game 4, a 3-0 victory on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center, was a big improvement for Chicago.
“We ratcheted up our emotion and intensity going into that game; we still think there’s another level we want to get to,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
Defenseman Duncan Keith became a father for the first time Tuesday, just hours before Game 4. After hearing that wife Kelly-Rae was in labor, Keith flew to Chicago on Monday night, was present for the birth of his son Colton at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday, and flew back to Minnesota in time for the game.
“A whirlwind, the last 24 hours,” Keith said. “So much excitement getting to see my little boy.”
Keith arrived at Xcel Energy Center at 6:30 p.m. and played 24 minutes in the Blackhawks’ victory.
Chicago put the clamps on the Wild offense in Game 4, shutting it out. The Blackhawks clogged the shooting lanes, blocked 26 shots, and goaltender Corey Crawford made 25 saves.
The Blackhawks’ depth and play of their forwards has been a key during the series, and all season, when they led the NHL with 2.02 goals against per game, compared with 2.82 (22nd) last season.
“The goals-against have been cut dramatically from this season to last; a lot of that has to do with the five guys on the ice,” Sharp said. “Our goaltenders have been strong all season long. I think whoever’s on the ice, the three forwards, two defense, we kind of work as a unit protecting our net. Blocking shots, keeping pucks out of our end — that’s been a huge reason why we’ve been winning games.”
Chicago killed off six Wild power-play opportunities in Game 4, and the Wild is 0-for-15 in the series.
Much of the Blackhawks’ success has been due to the play of forwards Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger.
“They’ve done a great job, they’ve kind of taken that unit over,” Sharp said. “They’re out there first every penalty kill. They’ve got great reads, great sticks and they’re willing to block a lot of shots. They’re a big reason why our penalty kill has been solid all season.”