With help from unmasked goalie, Blackhawks come alive in Game 2 win

SHARE With help from unmasked goalie, Blackhawks come alive in Game 2 win

It was either a tightly contested game between two evenly matched opponents or it was boring hockey that begged to be put of out its misery.

However you saw it, there was no arguing that it went on far, far too long Sunday night. For a period and a half, the Blackhawks and the Wild went toe to toe and nothin’ to nothin’. That it was a second-round playoff game did not make it any easier to watch.

And then, like a ray of light from above, a game of slo-mo chess blessedly gave way to hockey. A two-goal explosion from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the second period. Great goaltending by Corey Crawford. And if it was visceral you were looking for, there was a dented goalie mask and a wobbly Crawford in the third.

All this happened in a 4-1 victory Sunday that gave the Hawks a 2-0 lead in their second-round series with Minnesota. There is nothing easy about playoff hockey, but seven goals in two games (another on an empty netter) against Devan Dubnyk, arguably the best goalie in hockey in the second half of the season, has made life very easy for the Hawks.

For a period and half, this game played dead. And then? Here came the Hawks. Marian Hossa stole the puck from the Wild’s Ryan Suter, chugged down the ice and sent a perfect pass to Toews, who one-timed it past Dubnyk for a shorthanded goal. And just like that, the United Center went from acoustic to electric, and the Hawks led 1-0.

Not long after, Crawford reminded us of how good he can be. Twice he stonewalled the Wild, first with a toe save on a charging Kyle Brodziak and then with a save on Zach Parise at point-blank range.

Kane, who not too long ago was sidelined with a broken clavicle – almost hard to remember now, isn’t it? – whipped a wrist shot past Dubnyk with 20 seconds left in the second period. A perfect stretch pass from Duncan Keith set up the score.

“What was amazing about that is just how it stayed flat the whole time,’’ Kane said. “Just a great flat pass right on my stick.’’

This all happened in a stretch of seven minutes, 12 seconds in the second period. Crazy-fun stuff at the UC.

It was a reminder that the Hawks have the ability to change a game quickly and in many ways. That can happen when you have the talent they do. Those two goals involved the team’s best players – Hossa, Toews, Kane and Keith. When someone tells you that success in hockey has to do with desire more than talent, point them to that 7:12 span. This was the best players making the biggest plays at the most important time.

“It’s one of those things where at this time of year you try to step up in big games,’’ said Kane, who had two goals. “It seems like Jonny does it a lot.’’

Crawford was great in that second period, showing off the skills he brought to much of the regular season, when he helped carry a struggling team. But what most people will remember from Sunday’s game is the sight of Crawford trying to get his bearings after a nasty shot to the head in the third.

He had trouble picking up a Marco Scandella shot, and the result was a dented mask. He said he was not dazed by it, no matter how it looked.

“It was kind of a bomb from almost the corner,’’ Crawford said. “I just saw it like last second. I kind of turned my head and lost my balance a little bit.’’

He had to replace the mask with another one. The fate of the original?

“He gone,’’ said Crawford, one Hawk imitating another.

If the Blackhawks are going to get to where they want to go — their third Stanley Cup title in six seasons — it’s going to take the kind of inspired play we saw in the second period. They are very, very hard to beat when their best players are playing their best. Their best players are usually better than the other team’s best players. It seems so simple. Why can’t they play like that all the time?

It’s tough sport, and the other team happens to be trying too. With Games 3 and 4 in Minnesota, the Wild figure to play even harder. But with the way the Hawks can turn it on, trying harder might not be enough.

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