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In case they weren’t aware already, the Blackhawks now know they’re going to have to earn it if they want to get past Detroit.The Red Wings hammered home that message on Saturday.Damien Brunner and Brendan Smith scored in the second period and Detroit beat the Blackhawks 4-1 in Game 2 to even their Western Conference semifinal series.It was a strong response by the Red Wings after the Hawks handled them easily in the series opener, 4-1.
“We’ve got a real good club now,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “And we haven’t been good all year. We’ve just gotten better.”
Their confidence got a big jolt after they knocked off the Presidents’ Trophy winners and avoided falling into a deep hole. It was another big win by a team that finished seventh in the conference, only to knock off second-seeded Anaheim in the first round.Now, they’re even with a team that’s been rolling along all season and is eyeing its second Stanley Cup in four years.
“Both teams would be stupid if they thought they were going to come in here and either team win four straight,” Brent Seabrook said.Just as the Blackhawks did in Game 1, Detroit took control in the second period and put the game away in the third. Now, the Red Wings have a chance to take the lead when this series between Original Six rivals shifts to Detroit for Game 3 on Monday.
“Overall, I think we had more energy,” the Red Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg said. “We did a lot of the little things better than we did in Game 1 and when we got our chances we were able to put the puck in the net.”
Patrick Kane gave the Hawks a 1-0 lead late in the first, but did things ever change after that. Brunner tied it when he deflected a wrist shot by Jakub Kindl early in the second, and Smith gave the Red Wings the lead when he scored off a feed from Zetterberg on a 3-on-1 late in the second.Johan Franzen made it 3-1 in the third when he fired a rising shot past Crawford after a perfect pass from Jonathan Ericsson in the Detroit zone. And Valtteri Filppula closed out the scoring with 7:57 left in the game.That was enough for Jimmy Howard, who stopped 19 shots.
Crawford made 26 saves and played well at times even though things got out of hand down the stretch. When it was over, coach Joel Quenneville insisted his faith in his goalie hasn’t wavered.
“Not at all,” he said. “Across the board, we should all assume responsibility.”
The Red Wings were simply a step faster and were more physical in this one after the Blackhawks ran away from them in the opener.
“I think just by taking care of our own end first, making good plays, you end up playing a faster game that way,” Smith said. “By taking away their speed, it helps out ours. You want to get a lot of contact on these types of teams, and it works out for us.”
The Blackhawks still struck first thanks to a lucky bounce after Detroit’s Kyle Quincey sprawled out to block a pass across the slot by Patrick Sharp that was intended for Kane on a 2-on-1 rush. The puck bounced to a trailing Michal Handzus, who immediately fed it to a wide open Kane in the right slot. He fired it into the net at the 14:05 mark for a 1-0 lead and his first goal of the playoffs.About a minute later, with the Red Wings on a power play, Crawford made a nice save on Zetterberg before Pavel Datsyuk ripped a shot high off the right post.Detroit tied it early in the second when a wrist shot by Kindl from just inside the blue line deflected off Brunner and past a screened Crawford, who didn’t even react as the puck went past him on the glove side.But the Hawk goalie had the fans chanting his name midway through the period with two great saves, stopping Zetterberg from the slot and sprawling out to foil Daniel Cleary on the rebound.The Red Wings took a 2-1 lead with 3:52 left in the second after Niklas Hjalmarsson fell racing Zetterberg for a loose puck. Zetterberg then dished to Smith on a 2-on-1 rush for the go-ahead goal.
“He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said in a nod to Smith’s struggles in Game 1.
There weren’t many mistakes by the Red Wings in this one. Other than Kane’s goal, they contained the Blackhawks’ stars and made it look easy over the final two periods.
“They kind of used our own style against us as far as holding onto the puck and keeping it away from us,” Kane said.
NOTES—LW Drew Miller was in the Red Wings’ lineup for the first time since April 20. He had been sidelined by a broken bone in his right hand…..Viktor Stalberg was a healthy scratch for the Blackhawks, just as he was in Game 1. “I don’t like changing too much, but we wanted to get [Dave Bolland] in our lineup,” Quenneville said before the game. “It’s comparable to what we’ve done during season. But we’ll see. We can adapt and change at any moment.”…. Quenneville on the early start: “I think the guys, once they get in, they don’t mind playing in the afternoon.”
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Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger scored in the third period, Corey Crawford made 20 saves and the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 in the opener of their second-round playoff series Wednesday night.The Blackhawks dominated the final two periods in its first game in the Western Conference semifinals since it won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Marian Hossa scored the opening goal, and Patrick Sharp had an empty-netter and two assists to give him nine points in the playoffs.
“I thought it was our best game of the playoffs, no question,” Sharp said.
Jimmy Howard finished with 38 stops in a terrific performance, but Detroit still lost to rival Hawks for the eighth straight time dating to last season.The series resumes on Saturday afternoon at the United Center.The 75th all-time playoff game between the Blackhawks and Red Wings was tied at 1 after two periods, and Howard made a great stop on a breakaway by Dave Bolland 4 1/2 minutes into the third.The Hawks kept working and went in front to stay on a heady play by Oduya. He drifted in from the point and sent Sharp’s pass past Howard on the glove side with 12 minutes left.
“He sneaks in there, and it was a great play by Johnny,” Sharp said. “I saw him pinching in, I felt like he was wide open, and he called for the puck.”
Kruger then jumped on a loose puck and sent a backhander into the upper right corner to make it 3-1. That was more than enough for Crawford, who caught a break when Damien Brunner’s rebound attempt went off the crossbar and straight down before Brent Seabrook swept it away with about three minutes left.
“Sometimes you got to get some breaks,” Crawford said. “Seabs came in there and he made a great play to clear it out.”
The opener of the 16th playoff series between the Original Six teams was the first game for the Blackhawks since the eliminated Minnesota last Thursday. Detroit closed out Anaheim with a 3-2 win in Game 7 on Sunday night, taking the final two games of the series against the second-seeded Ducks.Despite the long break, there was no sign of rust for the Blackhawks. And the Red Wings skated right with Hawks despite all that travel in the first round and the thrilling conclusion to the series against Anaheim.This one was fast and frenetic from the start. Two similar teams more than familiar with the other’s style, energized by their first playoff meeting since Detroit beat the Hawks in five games in the 2009 Western Conference final.The Blackhawks struck first, taking advantage of the first power-play opportunity of the game. With Gustav Nyquist in the box for hooking, Sharp forced a turnover along the boards and Jonathan Toews sent the puck to Hossa, who one-timed it past Howard at 9:03.Detroit needed less than two minutes to respond, tying it when Brunner poked in a rebound for his third career playoff goal. The rookie center also contributed three assists in the first round against the Ducks.The Blackhawks killed off two power plays created by penalties on Andrew Shaw. They killed off another one when Nick Leddy was sent off for delay of game in the second period, making them a perfect 20 for 20 on the penalty kill in the postseason and sinking Detroit to 1 for 18 on power plays against the Blackhawks, including the regular season.After Leddy’s penalty, the Blackhawks controlled most of the action for a while. They had a 17-5 advantage in shots in the period. They just couldn’t solve Howard, who made a great glove stop on a wide-open Hossa with 6:39 remaining. Detroit also killed off two Hawk power plays to keep it tied headed to the third.
NOTES—It was the 800th game between the teams….Detroit F Justin Abdelkader was shaken up after he collided with Michal Rozsival in the first period. He was helped to the bench after a few moments down on the ice, but eventually returned to the game…..Viktor Stalberg was a healthy scratch. Coach Joel Quenneville said it was a “coach’s decision” and Stalberg could get back on the ice at any point. He said he talked to Stalberg about the decision to bench him for the opener…..Toews and Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings joined Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as finalists for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Datsyuk, a three-time winner, tied with Toews for the league lead in takeaways with 56…..Tha Hawks have won eight of the previous 15 playoff series against Detroit.
MIAMI—Knowing his team needed him at his best, Dwyane Wade retreated to the Miami Heat locker room after the third quarter for some quick treatment on his aching right knee. When he came back, he was good as new.And now he can rest until the Eastern Conference finals.LeBron James scored 23 points, Wade added 18 and had a brilliant 45-second sequence that proved crucial, and the Heat clawed back from an 11-point second-half deficit to beat the Bulls 94-91 on Wednesday night and close out their second-round series in five games. The Heat outscored the Bulls 25-14 in the fourth quarter to escape and advance.
“We gave it everything we had,” James said. “I have no energy left.”
“I knew the fourth quarter was going to be tough so I wanted to re-tape my knee,” said Wade, who has been battling bone bruises on his knee for several weeks. “I knew I was going to come back into a grind. Our trainers did a great job of getting it taped it enough so I could come out and play.”
Did they ever.Wade had a blocked shot, defensive rebound, offensive rebound and putback slam — all in a late 45-second span — to help cap a wild night of wild comebacks. The Heat blew an early 18-point lead, then pulled off a late rally to finish off the depleted Bulls, who still had two chances on their last possession to force overtime.But Nate Robinson and Jimmy Butler missed 3-pointers, time expired, and Miami moved on to face Indiana or New York next week.
“Dwyane is uncanny,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “When the competition is at its highest, and its fiercest, he finds a way.”
Carlos Boozer finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls, who were without Derrick Rose for the 99th straight game, as well as Kirk Hinrich (calf) and Luol Deng (illness). Robinson scored 21 points, Butler had 19, and Richard Hamilton 15 for the Bulls, who dropped the final four games of the series.
“Obviously we’re disappointed in losing the series,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But I was never disappointed in our team. I thought our team fought hard all year long. There was no quit in them.”
True — all the way to the end.A team that played without the 2011 NBA MVP in Rose, and dealt with a slew of other issues along the way, was within a couple shots from forcing the reigning champions to fly back to Chicago for a Game 6 on Friday night.
“We’ve got warriors here,” Boozer said. “If we’re healthy next season, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Shane Battier opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to get Miami within five. Another 3-pointer from Battier — over Boozer, his fellow Duke alum — came not long afterward, and he connected on a pair of free throws after being fouled on a 3-point try to cut the Bull’s lead to 81-79.Norris Cole had a pair of baskets, the second being a left-handed driving dunk, to put Miami on top, and the Heat found a way to close it out from there, even though it wasn’t easy, by any measure.Robinson’s 3-pointer with 1:43 left got the Bulls to 94-91. No one scored again, even though there were plenty of chances both ways.When it was finally over, the Heat lingered on the court in celebration. Wade held on to the game ball as he shook a few fans’ hands, and he, James and Bosh exchanged some high-fives — the last three Miami players to leave the floor.
“I had a good couple of minutes,” Wade said. “I knew they’ve seen a lot of LeBron and Norris. I knew they weren’t prepared for me to attack which is what I was able to do.”
Miami will open the East finals at home next week, and it’ll be a playoff rematch from its march to the title last season. If Indiana beats New York — the Pacers lead that series 3-1 — on Thursday night, then the Heat and Pacers will meet in Game 1 in Miami on Monday night. If the Knicks extend the Pacers to at least six games, then the East finals would open Wednesday night, regardless of opponent.The Heat will almost surely be big favorites against either Indiana or New York, though it’s certain either opponent would enter a series against Miami with plenty of confidence. The Knicks went 3-1 against the Heat this season, outscoring them by 11.5 points per game and winning both of their games at Miami convincingly. The Pacers went 2-1 against the Heat, winning twice in Indianapolis and losing their lone game in Miami.To put that in some more perspective, the Heat went 2-5 against the Knicks and Pacers, and are now 72-12 against all other NBA clubs this season.
“It only gets more difficult and more challenging,” Spoelstra said. “That’s what competitors want.”
Then again, given how Miami has played over the last 3½ months, the notion of the Heat losing to anybody four times might seem downright impossible. The Heat lost at Indiana on Feb. 1. They won at Toronto two days later, the first victory in what became a run of 27 straight wins — and the start of a stretch that has seen Miami go 45-3 in its last 48 games.More than half the league — 17 of the other 29 teams — didn’t win 45 games, total, this season, even including playoffs.
“They’re a great team. A great team,” Thibodeau said. “They’re not going to beat themselves. You have to beat them.
No one would have thought the ending would be so exciting after the way this one started.Marco Belinelli took the Bulls’ first shot, a woefully short airball. Joakim Noah took their second shot, a very long airball. Their third possession was a turnover, and the night was shaping up like a Chicago disaster.It was 10-0 before half the crowd was in their seats, and 22-4 just past the midpoint of the opening quarter. Since the start of Game 4, in barely over 53 minutes of play, the Heat had outscored the Bulls by 40 points. Everyone in the building — except for the 20 or so guys in red uniforms or wearing suits on the Chicago bench — had to be thinking that the series was over.If so, then they were all wrong.Game 5 turned into a microcosm of the Bulls’ season. They were unfazed, unflappable, unrelenting in the face of being counted out.And before long, the massive deficit was a thing of the past.
“We kept fighting,” Noah said. “And kept fighting.”
Boozer went 6 for 7 in the opening quarter, his layup late in the period getting the Bulls within seven before James scored to end the first and give Miami a 30-21 lead. The Bulls were unbothered, and just kept getting stops on one end, making baskets on the other. Butler’s 3-pointer with 4:46 left in the half gave the Bulls their first advantage of the night, 38-36.To recap, the game started with a 22-4 Heat run – and in the 13 minutes that immediately followed, the Bulls rebutted with a 34-14 burst.By halftime, it was 53-47. In the third, after the Bulls briefly led by 11 — remember, they were down 18, making that a 29-point turnaround — the Bulls took a 77-69 edge into the final 12 minutes.
“We grinded it out,” Boozer said. “We had chances. We just fell a little bit short.”
And Miami moved on, now halfway home in its quest for a second straight title.
NOTES—Miami is 6-0 in its last six chances to close out a series….The Bulls had 16 turnovers, which Miami turned into 27 points….Hinrich’s calf injury was improving, the Bulls said, but not to the point where he could play.
LeBron James scored 27 points and the Miami Heat nearly matched a franchise record for points allowed in a playoff game, pounding the listless and short-handed Bulls 88-65 on Monday night to take a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.The 65 points allowed were only two more than the all-time postseason low for a Miami opponent, and it was easily the worst offensive performance by a Bulls team.Never before had the Bulls scored fewer than 69 in a playoff game nor 10 or less in a quarter during the postseason, but both those marks fell on a night when they were dominated on both ends of the floor.Miami led by 11 at the half and put this one away in the third quarter, outscoring the Bulls 17-9 in the period.Now the Heat will try to wrap up the series at home on Wednesday night, taking what they hope will be the next step toward a second straight championship.It’s hard to believe the Bulls won the series opener the way the past three games have gone.Miami pounded the Bulls in Game 2, coming away with its most lopsided playoff victory while handing the Bulls their worst ever postseason loss, and the Heat continued to roll from there.James had his usual complete game with eight assists and seven rebounds Monday.Chris Bosh finished with 14 points after scoring 20 and grabbing 19 rebounds in Game 3, and the Heat won again despite another quiet night from Dwyane Wade, who finished with six points. Norris Cole also struggled with seven points after back-to-back 18-point performances, but the Heat had more than enough in this one.They shot about 49 percent while the Bulls set a franchise playoff low at 25.7 percent. They were particularly bad from the outside, going 2 for 17 from 3-point range.The Bulls again were missing ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf), and a team that kept finding ways to win despite being short-handed all season simply appeared to run out of steam. Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his fifth double-double in the postseason but was just 3 of 14 from the field. Jimmy Butler scored 12 and Joakim Noah grabbed nine rebounds, but it was a miserable night for the Bulls – particularly Nate Robinson, who missed all 12 shots and did not score.James scored 15 points and Bosh added 12 in the first half to help the Heat take a 44-33 lead at the break, but that doesn’t even come close to telling the complete story.Consider this.Miami shot just under 53 percent, with the Bulls at about 27 percent. The Bulls were also 1 of 11 on 3-pointers, and the only conversion from long range came from Richard Hamilton.Remember him? After playing a grand total of 10 minutes over two playoff appearances, coach Tom Thibodeau turned to him early in the second quarter with Miami threatening to put the game away.The veteran guard entered to loud cheers with the Bulls trailing 30-17 after back-to-back 3-pointers by Shane Battier and Ray Allen, and the crowd was roaring after Hamilton nailed a wide open 3 from up top and Taj Gibson converted a three-point play.That made it a seven-point game, but the Bulls couldn’t sustain any momentum. The Heat suffocated them on both ends, squeezing a little harder every time the Bulls made a push.There was no energy from the Bulls, none of the resourcefulness that carried them to 45 wins during the regular season and to the second round in the playoffs.They were trailing 44-31 with about 40 seconds left after James made a neat spin move on the break and got fouled by Nate Robinson for a three-point play.
NOTES—The Heat and Bulls were well represented on the NBA’s all-defensive first team, with James and Noah being selected. … Thibodeau had nothing to say about the $35,000 fine from the league for comments he made about the officiating in Game 3. Asked if he was surprised by the amount, he said, “I’ve got no comment on that. We’re just getting ready for Game 4.” … Deng was listed as active after initially being ruled out. Hinrich and Rose were inactive.
ANAHEIM—Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula each had a goal and an assist, and the Detroit Red Wings finished off the Anaheim Ducks with a 3-2 victory in Game 7 on Sunday night.Justin Abdelkader scored a short-handed goal and Jimmy Howard made 31 saves as the seventh-seeded Red Wings won three of the first-round series’ final four games to oust the Ducks, who had the NHL’s third-best record in the regular season.Detroit faces the top-seeded Blackhawks in the second round starting Wednesday night at the United Center. It will be the first meeting of the soon to be former Division rivals since the 2009 Western Conf Finals which the Wings won four games to one. Emerson Etem and Francois Beauchemin scored and Jonas Hiller stopped 29 shots for the Ducks, who failed to win their first playoff series since 2009 despite home-ice advantage in Game 7.After the clubs played four overtimes in the series’ first six games, the Red Wings largely dominated the anti-climactic clincher — and for the first time in the series, the Wings didn’t even need overtime to win.
CLEVELAND—The Rush could not keep up with Cleveland Saturday night, dropping a 53-50 decision to the Gladiators. The loss snaps Chicago’s perfect mark on the road, and puts them back at .500 eight games into the season.The game started atypical of the Arena Football League, with shaky offensive showings from both teams. For the fourth time this season, the Rush were unable to secure an opposing kickoff, and the Gladiators cashed in on the miscue, getting out to an early 7-0 lead. Despite the early advantage, Cleveland could not muster any kind of momentum on either side of the ball. Their shaky defense allowed the Rush to score on two separate one-play drives, a 30-yard strike from Carson Coffman to Reggie Gray and a three-yard Kelvin Morris run to put the Rush up 14-7 at the end of one.The Gladiators were finally able to establish some offensive footing early in the second quarter, as their first quality drive of the night ended with a Brian Zbyniewski-to-Thyron Lewis 16 yard touchdown pass. On the offensive side of the ball for the Rush, Rodney Wright made his presence known after a two week absence. The veteran receiver returned the opening kickoff of the second quarter to the Chicago 15, then took the second play 20 yards on a pitch down to the Cleveland 16. After a few red-zone runs, the Rush were able to extend their lead to 20-13. Cleveland responded with a scoring drive to seemingly close out the first half, however it was Wright who returned the ensuing kick 54 yards to give the Rush a seven point lead going into the locker room. The third quarter began with both backup quarterbacks in the game. Cleveland’s Chris Dieker marched the Gladiators down the field without any issues until he hit the red zone, where their drive stalled. Danny Southwick and the Rush took over on the three; however on his first pass attempt he was called for intentional grounding in the end zone, giving Cleveland two points and the ball. In turn, the Gladiators capitalized with a six play, 33 yard scoring drive to regain a two-point lead, which was quickly extended to nine after Dominick Goodman caught his second touchdown of the evening.Faced with a nine point deficit just five seconds into the fourth, the Rush began their most important drive of the evening. Southwick was able to compose himself and put together an eight-play, 48 yard drive. Gray was the go-to option, hauling in a nine-yard touchdown pass to bring the Rush within two.The two teams exchanged four more touchdown drives, with the Rush converting on both two-point conversion attempts to tie the game up at 50 with one minute remaining in regulation. However with the ball and the clock now in their favor, Cleveland conservatively marched down the field, setting up kicker Aaron Pettrey at the Rush four yard line for a potential game-winning field goal with 3.9 seconds remaining. The snap and hold were textbook, and the Ohio State product knocked it through to send the Rush back to Chicago with a 53-50 loss. The Rush will return to action on May 19th as they take on the Arizona Rattlers at the Allstate Arena.
LeBron James came on strong down the stretch to finish with 25 points, Chris Bosh added 20 points and 19 rebounds, and the Miami Heat followed up the most lopsided playoff win in franchise history with a 104-94 victory over the Bulls on Friday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.Norris Cole scored 18, and the Heat pulled out a tight win after blasting the Bulls 115-78 on Wednesday.The Bulls hung in right until the closing minutes, but the Heat simply had too much in the end.James hit just 6 of 17 shots and even got blocked on a layup by Nate Robinson in the third quarter. But the four-time MVP came through down the stretch, scoring 12 in the fourth to finish with 25 points, Chris Bosh added 20 points and 19 rebounds. Norris Cole scored 18, and the Heat pulled out a tight win after blasting the Bulls 115-78 on Wednesday.This time, they refused to go quietly. Never mind that the Bulls were coming off the worst playoff loss in franchise history. Put aside the fact that the ailing Luol Deng and injured Kirk Hinrich (calf) remained sidelined, not to mention Derrick Rose, or that Nazr Mohammed got ejected in the second quarter for shoving James to the floor.The Heat simply had too much in the end.James hit just 6 of 17 shots and even got blocked on a layup by Nate Robinson in the third quarter. But the four-time MVP came through down the stretch, scoring 12 in the fourth.He and Cole hit two big 3-pointers. Bosh perked up after two quiet games, and Miami’s bench outscored the Bulls reserves 36-8.Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 21 points. Robinson and Jimmy Butler each scored 17. Joakim Noah added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Marco Belinelli had 16 points, but the Bulls couldn’t pull this one out.They were within 85-83 when Cole scored on a finger roll with about four minutes left and Miami started to take control from there. James answered a 3-pointer by Belinelli with one of his own, and after Boozer hit a jumper for the Bulls, Cole buried another 3 for the Heat to make it 96-88 with 1:48 remaining.
Marian Hossa and the Blackhawks were well aware they’d been playoff underachievers since they captured the Stanley Cup in 2010.Now, they’re eyeing another championship. And they just took an important step toward it.Hossa scored twice to back a strong effort by goalie Corey Crawford, and the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 5-1 Thursday night to win the first-round playoff series 4-1.The Hawks will face either San Jose or Detroit, if the Red Wings get past Anaheim, in the next round.
“We knew we hadn’t done it in two years,” Hossa said. “Minnesota, they still have a great team and are missing some players. We found a way. Now we get ready for the next round.”
The way the Blackhawks have dominated, anything less than a trip to the Stanley Cup finals would be a disappointment for them.They got off to a record start and captured the Presidents’ Trophy for finishing with more points than any other team. Now, they’re eyeing the biggest prize of all. And after bowing out in the first round the past two years, they sure are looking good. Even so, coach Joel Quenneville insisted they need to step it up a notch.
“It’s not the regular season,” he said. “There’s another appetite that we’ve got to get as well. I don’t think we should be happy where we’re at with our play. Let’s get angry as we go along here.”
Hossa scored off a feed from Jonathan Toews late in the first period. Marcus Kruger made it 2-0 with a wraparound early in the second, and Hossa chased the Wild’s Josh Harding when he knocked in a rebound minutes later.Then, after Torrey Mitchell scored for Minnesota, while the Hawk’s Andrew Shaw scored against Darcy Kuemper. Patrick Sharp added his fifth goal of the series early in the third period, and that was more than enough for Crawford.Coming off his second career playoff shutout, he saved 21 shots, and his performance in this series went a long way toward winning over a fan base wondering if he had the makeup to succeed in the postseason. After all, he let in some bad goals against Phoenix a year ago.
“I’m not the only guy in the league that’s given up soft goals in the playoffs,” Crawford said. “You guys like to keep telling me about it, but it’s something you’re trying to learn from and trying to make yourself better from it.”
The Blackhawks became the third team to advance in this postseason, along with San Jose and Ottawa. They also bucked a recent trend of early exits for Presidents’ Trophy winners.The team with the most regular-season points had been eliminated in the first round in three of the previous four years. The Wild were hoping to replicate what the Los Angeles Kings did last year and win the Stanley Cup as the eighth seed, but the Blackhawks simply had too much skill, speed and depth.The Wild were also short-handed after losing one of their top scorers in Dany Heatley to season-ending left shoulder surgery late in the season. They also had to get by without goalie Niklas Backstrom after he suffered a leg injury in warm-ups before Game 1.That forced the Wild to go with Harding, who played in just five games during the regular season after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last summer.
“It was a kind of a curveball there, but I thought Josh played very well. I was very happy for him and way that he handled everything,” the Wild’s Matt Cullen said.
Harding also got banged up in this series. He left Game 4 after a collision with Toews in which his legs got straddled around the left goal post, and he wasn’t sharp in this one, allowing three goals on 18 shots even though he was deemed well enough to start.Coach Mike Yeo turned to Kuemper after Hossa’s second goal. He also insisted the injury in Game 4 wasn’t a factor in Harding’s performance in this one.
“It wasn’t,” Yeo said. “I don’t want to pin this loss on Josh, either. Credit them and their team.”
There was also a question about Yeo’s job security after this loss. The Wild were widely considered Stanley Cup contenders after they gave free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter identical 13-year, $98 million contracts last summer. But they never quite lived up to expectations.
“I can’t answer that,” Yeo said. “All I can say is if you want to look at it objectively, statistically, if you really want to look at it properly, then there’ve been a lot of improvements in our organization and our team. I feel that we’re going in the right direction.”
For a moment, the Wild looked like they might get back into this one.Moments after Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon hit the right post, Mitchell ripped a one-timer past Crawford midway through the second period. But Shaw answered 35 seconds later with his first career playoff goal when he swept the puck in from a bad angle just to the right of the net, making it 4-1.As for Crawford, there was some debate over whether he or Ray Emery should be the No. 1 goalie in the playoffs. Both were terrific during the regular season. Emery’s lower body injury ended the discussion, and Crawford was nothing but solid in this series.
“He’s making saves that he needs to make and he’s making saves that he shouldn’t be making,” Sharp said. “When he does that, it breeds confidence throughout the lineup and it filters through everybody.”
He even had the fans chanting his name at several points. For example, when Crawford stopped a routine shot by Jason Pominville from the wing and scrambled back toward the middle of the net for a neat pad save against Mikko Koivu on the rebound. That foiled another power play by the Wild after they went 0 for 15 in the first four games.
“I definitely heard (the chants),” Crawford said. “It’s nice. It was a good feeling. They’ve been hard on me at times this year, obviously, but that’s a part of it. They want the best. They expect us to be at our best. It’s only fair.”
NOTES—Dave Bolland and Emery remain sidelined by lower body injuries, although Quenneville said they’re “real close.” Bolland said it’s 50-50 he would have been able to play if “it was do or die” for the Blackhawks, but he expects to be ready in the next round…..Quenneville moved ahead of Mike Keenan and took sole possession of second place on the Blackhawks’ playoff wins list with 34. Billy Reay is the club record-holder with 57 from 1963-77.