CHICAGO – The sleeping giant rose from his slumber.
It took four games and one period, but the real Chicago Blackhawks finally awoke in the second period Sunday night, rallied for a 2-1 victory over the Wild and regained control of the Western Conference semifinals by taking a 3-2 series lead.
Now the question is if the Wild can knock the defending champs unconscious again Tuesday night in front of its home crowd.
“It’s not going to be easy, that’s for sure,” said left wing Nino Niederreiter. “We definitely had a big chance to take that game tonight, but we let 10 minutes slip, lost our focus and that cost us. We have to forget about this game.”
The Wild wanted to take the rabid crowd at the United Center out of it early, and that the Wild did.
The Wild’s offensive-zone pressure in the first 10 minutes resembled its play in Games 3 and 4 in St. Paul. The Blackhawks coughed up pucks, and the Wild jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Erik Haula blew by Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith en route to a coast-to-coast goal.
By the middle of the period, some Chicago fans were so bored, they whistled. By the 20-minute mark, the only thing that kept the Blackhawks from hearing boos was the game ops folks drowning them out by raising the volume of the organist.
Then, the second period happened. The Blackhawks dominated, tied the score on old foe Bryan Bickell’s power-play goal and eventually took the lead for good early in the third when captain Jonathan Toews revealed himself for the first time since Game 2.
“We got a little bit soft in our game,” coach Mike Yeo said. “I don’t know if we had the mentality that we were going to try to sit on our lead or what. I didn’t feel that we were pressuring, I didn’t feel that we were finishing checks, I didn’t feel that we were competing on loose pucks and moving our feet like we were in the first period.
“It’s not [the] game plan. The players don’t want to do that. We just fell into the trap of trying to hang on to something that we want to have happen, and we fell victim to it.”
Corey Crawford made 27 saves, Ilya Bryzgalov did all he could to keep the Wild in a one-sided game with 20 of his 26 saves the final two periods and the Blackhawks improved to 6-0 at home. The good news is the Wild returns to Xcel Energy Center, where it is 5-0, to try to force a Game 7 in Chicago on Thursday.
“We’ve got to win,” Zach Parise said. “We just need a better effort. Not that it was terrible. I mean, we had our chance to win. We did some things really well. But I think we can be better, and we know we can be better.”
The second period was a stunning reversal after the Wild played so well in the first. Suddenly, it was the Wild being pinned in its zone and turning pucks over. The period was spent with the Wild chipping pucks out of the defensive zone or a lot of one-and-done’s in the offensive zone.
The Wild was outshot 15-6 in the period and Bickell tied the score on his seventh goal in 10 playoff games against the Wild the past two years. By the end of the second, the Blackhawks had 21 shots — one more than they had in Game 4 and one fewer than it had in any of the previous four games of the series.
“It just seemed like we stopped skating for a little brief time there,” Parise said.
The Blackhawks scored the eventual winner 4:33 into the third when Marian Hossa, who has nine points in five games this series and 15 in 10 playoff games against the Wild, bulled his way around the net. Defenseman Ryan Suter gloved a Patrick Sharp rebound to Hossa in the slot. Hossa shot and Toews, who got position on helpless Mikael Granlund, scored on the rebound.
Last round against Colorado, the Wild returned home, won Game 6, traveled back to Denver and won a huge Game 7 to advance. It must do it again.
“It would have been a big win for us going back home, but there’s nothing we can do about it now,” Wild winger Charlie Coyle said. “We’ve been in this position before and we’ve always played well when our backs are against the wall, so we’ll just get ready for that next one now.
“Our heads aren’t down. The series isn’t over. We’ve just got to focus on the next one, that’s all.”