The Blackhawks did something Tuesday night against Minnesota that they haven’t done in four years.
They won Game 1 of the postseason.
Not even in 2010, the Stanley Cup-winning season, did the Hawks capture the opener against Nashville, and not since the first game against Calgary in 2009 have the Hawks taken the first contest of the first series.
Obviously, it didn’t matter in 2010, but considering the playoff failures of the last two seasons the Hawks were happy — maybe even a bit relieved — to have this one out of the way.
“Better to get it than not, that’s for sure,” said captain Jonathan Toews after the Hawks’ 2-1 overtime victory Tuesday night at the UC. “It’s really nice to get it out of the way.”
The Hawks probably thought they won the game 20 minutes before it started, when Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom limped off the ice during warmups after lunging for a shot and failing to get back on his feet without help.
His backup, Josh Harding, is battling multiple sclerosis and hasn’t played much for months, logging the equivalent of three periods of game action since Jan. 25. But he stepped in and played well.
The Hawks, however, did not test him Tuesday like they will Friday, so while this figured to be a five-game series at most, a sweep will be on the Hawks’ minds if Backstrom is out for the duration.
“We definitely didn’t come out as crisp as we would like,” Toews said. “I think we will be ready to play from the start in Game 2.”
Perhaps the late news about a goalie switch served as a letdown for the Hawks, or maybe they were just rusty, but the home team displayed less energy than at any time this season.
Their passes weren’t sharp, their shots off, and their timing awful.
The Hawks haven’t played a meaningful game in awhile and maybe they just needed to find their playoff legs, which they undoubtedly will after a sleepy Game 1.
Give the Wild credit as well. At a huge skill disadvantage, you knew they would try to slow these games to a crawl, and they managed precisely that, standing up at the blue line, disrupting the Hawks’ transition game and blocking shots from the first minute to the last.
“They play great defense, and they are a very patient team,” Toews said. “I just think we were a little too excited for this game to start and we got away from some things we do best.”
The good news is Corey Crawford was outstanding, which will be a great confidence boost for the goaltender and his teammates, and his terrific blocker save on Zach Parise from the slot with 4:34 left in overtime saved the day.
Less than a minute later, Johnny Oduya made the pass of the year high off the glass in his own end, banking it to Viktor Stalberg, who was busting through the neutral zone.
“Johnny told me that if I got the chance, I should look for something long,” Stalberg said. “That was an incredible pass.”
Stalberg carried in on the off wing, slowed up and found Bryan Bickell cruising down the slot. Bickell drew Harding out of the net on the forehand and slipped home a backhander into an open net for the winner.
“That’s one of the nicer goals he’s ever scored in his career,” Stalberg said of Bickell. “He might have to do more of that.”
The Hawks will have to do more of what they do best if they want to make this a short series.
The guess here is that after grinding through an ugly game and collecting the win, they will now relax and handle an undermanned Minnesota club.
After making the Hawks watch film, Joel Quenneville will make sure of that.
źListen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score’s “Hit and Run” show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.