Corey Crawford brilliant as Blackhawks close in on Wild with win

It remains to be seen whether the Blackhawks can climb past the Minnesota Wild in the Central Division, but they well might have climbed back into the Wild’s heads.

A month ago, the Wild had a nine-point lead in the division and an eight-game regular-season winning streak against the Hawks. But after a 4-2 victory Sunday against the Wild at the United Center, the Hawks are only a point back (the Wild have a game in hand).

More important, though, the Hawks have beaten the Wild three consecutive times. If they meet in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, as expected, the Hawks will have all the momentum in the series.

‘‘Against a good team like that, you’ve got to be on your toes,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘We’ve learned the importance of every shift, doing the right things. And momentum’s always important as you go along, especially when you get to the playoffs.

A skirmish between the Wild and the Blackhawks breaks out during the second period Sunday. (Getty Images)

‘‘Whether you measure momentum or performance, at least we wiped that slate a lot cleaner than it was when we had a real problem trying to beat that team.’’

Facing an onslaught of shots and Grade-A scoring chances, goalie Corey Crawford made a season-high 42 saves in the victory. The Wild were all over the Hawks for most of the game, so this one was a straight-up goalie victory.

‘‘It’s disappointing,’’ Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. ‘‘They were there to be had today.’’

The victory also put an end to the Hawks’ modest two-game losing streak.

‘‘That was a big game for us,’’ Crawford said. ‘‘After two losses, coming back against one of the best teams in the league, some big points for us there. . . . It’s like a four-point game. For us, that’s a big win. It’s good for our momentum and our confidence.’’

The Hawks scored on their first two shots of the game, prompting Boudreau to make the rather stunning decision to yank goalie Devan Dubnyk for Darcy Kuemper after just 4:38. Dubnyk appeared to shoot Boudreau a glare, but Boudreau said he could tell Dubnyk wasn’t seeing the puck well. Hawks winger Patrick Kane said it was ‘‘a little surprising,’’ especially given how little chance Dubnyk had on either of the goals.

Artemi Panarin set up Kane’s 30th goal 51 seconds into the game, and Kane returned the favor by teeing up a one-timer by Panarin less than four minutes later.

The goalie switch served to wake up the Wild for the morning start, and they controlled play for most of the rest of the way. Eric Staal nudged in a rebound at 10:30 to make it 2-1, but an egregious brain cramp by Ryan White in the second period — he completely gave up on a play to complain to a referee after being whistled for a delayed penalty for tripping Jordin Tootoo — led immediately to a goal by Trevor van Riemsdyk that made it 3-1.

White briefly was benched for the mental error, and the Wild responded with a huge push-back. But Crawford was terrific, stopping all 20 shots he saw in the second period.

The Wild kept coming in the third, and Mikael Granlund took the puck off Nick Schmaltz’s stick and scored 46 seconds into the period to cut the Hawks’ lead to 3-2. After a few more great chances for the Wild, the Hawks put the game away when Marian Hossa beat Kuemper on a breakaway sprung by Duncan Keith.

‘‘We knew we needed to have this one,’’ Kane said. ‘‘If you look at our game [and] you ask anyone in this room, we probably feel we could play a lot better. Give the credit to [Crawford]; he played an unbelievable game. We want to play better against those guys. Nonetheless, we’ll take the points.’’

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

 


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