CHICAGO – This time, it was hard work for the Chicago Blackhawks. No pretty goals on this night, just get to the front of the net and fight for a chance.
Pushed, poked and prodded by the Minnesota Wild, Jonathan Toews and Co. found a way.
Toews had a tough rebound goal early in the third period, and the Blackhawks beat the Wild 2-1 on Sunday to take a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
“The whole game, the whole series has been very tight,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “Still not a lot of room and space, but that’s what we’ve got to fight through. I thought we showed more determination in the puck area tonight.”
Bryan Bickell also scored and Corey Crawford made 27 saves as Chicago bounced back from consecutive losses in Minnesota that handed the momentum to the Wild heading into Game 5.
But the Blackhawks were back at the United Center, where they improved to 6-0 in this post-season and 17-2 over the past two playoffs.
“As the game went on, we found ways to play better as a five-man unit,” Toews said. “Once one line would generate a good shift and get us some energy, the next line would follow it right up. I think that’s when we’re an effective team, when we have four lines going like that and contributing.”
Erik Haula scored in the first period for the Wild, and Ilya Bryzgalov had 26 stops. Minnesota became the first team to score first in the second round of the NHL playoffs and lose, dropping that record to 19-1, according to STATS.
“We tried to hang on to something we wanted to have happen and we fell victim to it,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Game 6 is Tuesday night in Minnesota, where the Wild are undefeated in this post-season.
Minnesota had a chance to grab the lead in the third but Crawford made a nice kick save on Cody McCormick about 2 1/2 minutes into the period. He also had a solid glove stop on Ryan Suter with the Blackhawks clinging to a 2-1 lead with 4:38 to go.
“We just need a better effort,” Wild star Zach Parise said. “Not that it was terrible. I mean, we had our chance to win at the end of the game. We did some things really well. But I think we can be better, and we know we can be better.”
Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp combined to put Chicago in front 4 1/2 minutes into the third. Hossa sent the puck in front to Toews at the right post. The captain was stopped by Bryzgalov, but he managed to slam home a backhand for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
“It was an ugly goal,” said Toews, who also had a big hit on Wild forward Mikael Granlund right before he scored. “As a line we were playing well and looking to find a way to score. I happened to get an ugly one on the side.”
The first period looked similar to much of the past two games in Minnesota, with the Wild using their speed and checking ability to shut down Chicago’s high-powered attack. The Wild also outworked the defending Stanley Cup champions early on as Quenneville tried several line combinations looking for a spark.
Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook was whistled for tripping just 29 seconds into the game, and Granlund sent an open look off the outside of the right post on the ensuing power play.
A terrific individual effort by Haula put Minnesota in front at 16:33 of the first. He drove through the Chicago zone and kept moving after his first try was stopped by Crawford, flipping a backhand into the net for his third goal of the post-season.
Chicago started to generate more chances in the second, but most of its early shots came from outside and Bryzgalov gobbled them up easily. Marcus Kruger sent a pass through the Minnesota crease, but no one was there for the Blackhawks.
It took a well-timed dash by a seldom-used role player to set up Chicago’s third goal in the past three games. Playing for the first time since April 12, Peter Regin drove to the net to draw a hooking penalty on Jonas Brodin.
Regin was active for the first time in the playoffs after the Blackhawks scratched Andrew Shaw with a lower-body injury, and Brandon Bollig sat out with a two-game suspension for boarding Wild defenceman Keith Ballard in Game 4.
On the ensuing power play, Patrick Kane’s slap shot went off Bickell’s left leg and past Bryzgalov to make it 1-1 at 9:18 of the second. It was Bickell’s sixth goal of the playoffs.
NOTES: Game 7 would be Thursday in Chicago. … The Wild played without Ballard (upper-body injury) and forward Matt Moulson (lower-body injury). … Blackhawks D Michal Rozsival was scratched after he struggled in Game 4. D Sheldon Brookbank and F Kris Versteeg returned to Chicago’s lineup.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap