Rozner: Blackhawks in command after strong Game 3
It may be safe to finally say that the Blackhawks have found their game again and Corey Crawford has rediscovered his confidence.
Not a moment too soon.
The Hawks were ready from the start and a solid first period was the key as they defeated the Wild 1-0 at the Xcel Center on Tuesday night, and carry a commanding 3-0 series lead into Game 4 Thursday night.
Joel Quenneville wanted the same game the Hawks played Sunday, their best team defensive effort in months, and they knew they would need it with Minnesota coming out on fire.
The Hawks and Quenneville were reminded frequently in the 48 hours leading up to Tuesday's game that they had struggled in Game 3s the last few years, but it's not really all that surprising.
Dating back to 2013, they had lost their last six Game 3s played on the road, three of those while being up 2-0 in a series. That's when you get an opponent's Game 7 desperation, knowing they can't be down 3-0 to any team in the postseason, let alone a team with the Hawks' pedigree.
So it's really about energy and being prepared mentally and emotionally to match the effort of the opposition.
And the Hawks were up to the task.
"We were expecting a game like this, 2-1 or 1-0. We thought that coming into the series," said Patrick Kane. "Tonight we just shut the game down defensively."
The Wild came out flying and hitting, taking a piece of every Hawks defenseman who touched the puck, but the visitors played a very smart and conservative opening 20 minutes, getting pucks deep and focusing on getting numbers back against a ferocious forecheck.
A strong penalty kill eight minutes into the game took the crowd completely out of it, and then on the power play the Hawks got the biggest bounce of the game.
Skating down the right side, Patrick Sharp heard Kane calling for the puck far side, but the puck was on edge and never made it. It bounced right to Andrew Shaw in the middle and he whacked it over to Kane, who walked in and beat Devan Dubnyk five-hole for a 1-0 Hawks lead at 14:06 of the first.
"We're not getting many opportunities, so it's hard to get into a flow on the power play," Kane said. "We got our one chance tonight and we struck on it."
The second period start was just as good for the Hawks, but then the Wild began to play below the goal line, and that's usually a problem for the Hawks, who had trouble controlling the puck and Minnesota regained the momentum through the middle part of the middle period.
Crawford stood tall and kept the game scoreless when Zach Parise sent Mikael Granlund in alone, but he went forehand and Crawford got him with the blocker at 11:25.
Less than a minute later Bryan Bickell was called for interference, but it was Crawford again playing the part of the best Hawks penalty killer with a trio of big saves.
"You have to get that kind of goaltending to win in the playoffs," said Duncan Keith, who played a game-high 29:22. "Corey was great tonight."
In the third, the Hawks didn't try to do much offensively, the forwards consistently below the circles on defense and Crawford did the rest, making 5 top-flight saves in the final 20 minutes.
It was Crawford's first postseason shutout since Game 3 of the first round against St. Louis last April, and he earned it. He looked calm and confident and at times made it look easy.
"It's never easy, especially against this team in this building," Crawford said. "They came out hard, but our guys played great in front of me and we were solid as a unit."
The Hawks played a simple and patient game, giving the Wild few good chances off turnovers or odd-man breaks, and then looked to spring their offense off the forecheck.
It's a smart formula for winning postseason games, especially on the road, and it's something the Hawks have struggled with for months.
But this is back-to-back, brilliant games and they now have the Wild on the brink for the third straight year.
So just like that, this series is over. It's only a question of when.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.