Blackhawks Tame Wild; Reclaim Division
And that, folks, is how good teams battle through adversity.
Despite missing star scoring winger, Patrick Sharp, to injury, the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Minnesota Wild last night with a determined 5-2 victory at the United Center. With the win, Chicago moves back into first place in their division with 57 points.
The Blackhawks overcame this adversity with substantial help from their rookies, as both Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes potted goals for Chicago en route to the win.
Improving his record this season to 10-3-2, Ray Emery stopped 21 of 23 shots in the win, as he out-dueled Minnesota goaltender Josh Harding, who was chased after allowing four goals on 21 shots.
It was the Wild who struck first last night about seven minutes into the first period, however, when Devin Setoguchi scored his ninth goal of the season after he banged home a rebound off of Marek Zidlicky's wrister from the near-point. It was another instance of Chicago's struggles with clearing out the opposition in front of its goaltender, but also just a nice play by Minnesota.
Five minutes later, though, Shaw made it 1-1 after Sean O'Donnell made a nice back-handed bank shot off the boards that Shaw snagged as he entered the Wild's zone on the left side and released a bullet of a wrister through traffic for his second goal of the season.
Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa had a chance to break the tie with less than seven minutes to play in the first period when they nearly converted a two-on-one chance that a diving Josh Harding stopped with an incredible effort.
Chicago's effort would pay off mid way through the second period, however, as Jimmy Hayes shortly after made it 2-1 with his power play tally as a result of putting himself near the left post where Minnesota's defenseman neglected to cover him. Dave Bolland worked the puck along the back boards before threading a perfect pass to a waiting Hayes for the rookie's third goal of the season in just seven games.
Less than a minute later, Jonathan Toews made a fantastic play, battling for the puck along the boards near the Wild blue line to feed a streaking Viktor Stalberg right into the slot to score his 13th of the season and put the Hawks up 3-1.
The Chicago power play would prove to be gaining momentum as Dave Bolland scored his 11th of the season on the man advantage to make it 4-1 with less than four minutes to play when he whacked a loose puck near a Minnesota defenseman and into an open net on a rebound off of Steve Montador's point shot.
The Wild were able to cut the Chicago lead to 4-2 when they scored a nearly identical goal to their first one as a speedy Darroll Powe took a bad-angle shot that generated a rebound right to Kyle Brodziak who slapped home his 12th goal of the season.
But it was too little too late.
Dave Bolland then scored his second goal of the night by tapping in an empty-net goal with less than two minutes to play to make the final score 5-2.
The Chicago Blackhawks were able to pull out a victory as a result of better defensive coverage in front of their goaltender, strong play by Ray Emery and goal support from the "supporting cast."
When a team has it's young guns contributing on a consistent basis, it's spreads out the scoring responsibility and takes some pressure off of the defense and goaltending. It breeds success.
If the Blackhawks can continue to do this as they move into the home-stretch of the regular season, they will put themselves into a solid position for the playoffs.
It's true that the Chicago defensive corps is not as experienced as that of other serious playoff contenders, but that doesn't mean the Hawks are not a dangerous team. There is a lot of upside to this team and we're going to see exactly what they're made of as we near the end of the regular season.