CHICAGO – Bryan Bickell had an open look on a break in the third period, and shot the puck off the crossbar. He then tried the other side of the ice, and that worked out quite well for him and the Chicago Blackhawks.
Bickell had a goal and two assists, and the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
Brandon Saad scored his first two goals of the post-season, and Chicago earned its sixth consecutive win despite stretches of lacklustre play in the second and third periods. Corey Crawford made 18 saves in another solid performance.
“There were bits of that third where it wasn’t looking good, but we just stuck with it,” Bickell said. “Leave it to our D and Crawford to keep the puck out of the net. We need to be smarter defensively in positioning, but we stuck with it and got over the hump.”
Cody McCormick scored his second career playoff goal, but Minnesota missed another chance to steal home-ice advantage from the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“We weren’t that far off,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “Even though, again, I know we can play better. We weren’t that far off. That game was hanging for us.”
The series opener was tied at 2 in the third period before Patrick Kane scored two of Chicago’s final three goals in a 5-2 victory on Friday night. Game 3 is Tuesday night in Minnesota.
Clayton Stoner and Erik Haula made nice passes to set up McCormick’s first playoff goal in three years 2 minutes into the third, trimming Chicago’s lead to 2-1. Crawford then batted a potential tying shot from Charlie Coyle over the crossbar.
“I almost missed it, where it might have gone in,” Crawford said. “Just enough to land on top.”
The Blackhawks eventually regained their composure and turned up the pressure again. Coming down the right side, Bickell shot the puck off the crossbar on a break with 4:39 to go.
Given a second chance, the physical forward delivered. Bickell skated up the left side, got a pass from Marian Hossa and buried his shot into the upper right corner to extend Chicago’s lead to 3-1 at 17:15.
It was Bickell’s fifth goal of the playoffs. He also has three assists after he had nine goals and eight assists in last year’s playoffs.
“It’s that time of year. I enjoy it,” said Bickell, who had just 15 points during a disappointing regular season. “This is a crucial time for this team. We need for me and this team to step up.”
Saad added an empty-net goal, and the Blackhawks improved to 16-2 in home playoff games over the last two years. They are 5-0 at the United Center in this post-season.
“You always want to help produce and make plays and score goals, so that definitely felt good,” Saad said.
Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead for the second straight game. Jonathan Toews scored a rebound goal after goalie Ilya Bryzgalov stopped Hossa on a breakaway in the first, and Saad sent a shot over Bryzgalov’s right shoulder right after a power play expired in the second.
Haula had a great scoring opportunity on the right side of the net after Crawford lost track of the puck in the first. But Ben Smith got it back, and Haula put a drive off the side of the net.
“I’m disappointed that we’re here down 2-0, frustrated,” Wild star Zach Parise said. “But we understand that we didn’t play nearly well enough to win. I think that’s what we’re upset about, not so much being down 2-0. That’s not fun, either, but the way we played wasn’t good enough, and definitely not good enough to beat the Blackhawks.”
The Wild failed to convert on their only power play after going 0 for 3 with the man advantage in the opener. They went 0 for 17 on the power play when they were eliminated by the Blackhawks in five games in 2013.
NOTES: Bryzgalov made 18 saves. … Blackhawks F Andrew Shaw was out with a lower-body injury, but is expected to travel with the team to Minnesota. Coach Joel Quenneville said he likely will be able to play in Game 3. … Blackhawks F Brandon Bollig was a healthy scratch after he played in every previous game this season. F Kris Versteeg was back after he was scratched the previous two games, and F Jeremy Morin made his playoff debut. … Minnesota F Justin Fontaine had his first action since the Wild’s 5-2 victory against Colorado in Game 6 of their first-round series. Stephane Veilleux was among the scratches after he played almost nine minutes in the series opener against Chicago.