Blackhawks all but have the Wild tamed
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The Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp, middle, celebrates his goal off Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding in the first period of Game 4 on Tuesday night. At right is Wild's Jared Spurgeon.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford got a lot of help from his friends Tuesday night.
Crawford made 25 saves in the 3-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild in Game 4 of this Western Conference quarterfinal series the Hawks now lead 3-1, but his teammates blocked 26 more shots.
The Hawks can wrap up the series with another win in Game 5 on Thursday at the United Center, which again will start at 8:30 p.m.
Led by Crawford, the Hawks killed all six Minnesota power plays.
"Our PK definitely won us the game tonight," Crawford said. "We blocked a lot of shots and we cleared pucks when we needed to. It was definitely a big effort."
Patrick Sharp scored 2 goals and Bryan Bickell had the third as the Hawks rebounded from Sunday's overtime loss.
The Hawks came into the game more concerned about what they had to do than anything Minnesota might try.
It was as if the Hawks needed to remind themselves the playoffs had started.
"Just to bring that playoff-style hockey," Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We seem to kind of cruise out of the regular season. We were playing solid hockey and weren't making a lot of mistakes, but we didn't have that elevated level that you need in the playoffs. We've kind of carried that into the first three games.
"You watch every other series and see how tough it is on every single play and every single shift, little puck battles everywhere. Nothing is taken for granted. We've got have that same work ethic and same hatred for that team that they had for us last game."
Sharp's first goal came at 8:48 of the first period on a deflection of a shot by Michal Handzus, quieting the big crowd at Xcel Energy Center.
Sharp tipped Handzus' shot past goalie Josh Harding after Marian Hossa made a nice play along the boards.
Harding later hurt his left leg stopping a Toews drive to the net late in the first period and couldn't come out to start the second.
Rookie Darcy Kuemper, the Wild's third goaltender, replaced Harding making his playoff debut. The first shot he faced from Sharp beat him to the short side at 1:02.
"I probably would have shot it no matter who was in net," said Sharp, who has 4 goals for the series. "I had speed coming over the blue line, tried to use their defenseman as a screen and just ripped one.
"Those pucks seem to find a way in more often than not. The fact that was his first shot, I wasn't thinking like that."
Johnny Oduya's 5 blocked shots led the Hawks, while Michal Rozsival had 4.
"We did an outstanding job blocking shots, clears, dangerous plays, big saves — it all goes hand in hand," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "Our whole team game from the defense out was good, and Crow started it in net. Our team game today had much more bite to it."
Sharp stepped it up big time after Toews challenged the Hawks' best players in the morning.
"Of course we have a lot of depth on this team, but your best players have to be your best players," Toews said. "We know this series is a long way from being over, so those guys have to go out there and be better.
"First and foremost, I include myself when I say that. Guys like myself have to step up and be better."
Viktor Stalberg said the Hawks still can't take the Wild for granted even though the series is one game from being over.
"That's a very capable team," Stalberg said. "They've got some good players and a solid goalie, but I don't think we've been on top of our game yet. That's both a good and bad sign. We should be at the top of our game right now."
The Hawks were outhit 20-10, which was an improvement from Game 3.
"We're not going to be a team that runs around and kills guys left and right," Stalberg said. "We're more puck possession, so we're not going to get as many hits as some other teams because we have the puck more.
"But at the end of the day we need to be more physical."
•Follow Tim's hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.
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