Marcus Kruger, penalty kill come through in clutch for Blackhawks

SHARE Marcus Kruger, penalty kill come through in clutch for Blackhawks

MINNEAPOLIS —Like every other facet of their game in their second-round series against the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been at its best when it has to be.

As part of a clutch effort in a 1-0 victory in Game 3 at Xcel Energy Center — including Patrick Kane’s power-play goal and Corey Crawford’s shutout —the penalty kill was 3-for-3, including two kills in the third period.

With Marcus Kruger winning 3-of-4 faceoffs, including the initial faceoff on all three penalty kills, the Hawks held the Wild to three shots on their power plays. The Hawks were 19-of-27 (.704) on the penalty kill in the playoffs coming into Game 3.

“We felt throughout the year we’ve been playing good and done the right things [on the penalty kill]. It’s not going to be perfect all the time,” defenseman Johnny Oduya said. “At the start of the playoffs there were a couple of goals and some broken plays and some things we didn’t like.

“We have the confidence [that] when we really needed to, we could shut them down. Crow [Crawford] was tremendous too, so that helps a lot.”

The clincher?

The Hawks are 13-4 overall in potential clinching games in the Joel Quenneville era, including 11-2 when they are not facing elimination. In the first round against Nashville, they had a chance to clinch in Game 5 at Bridgestone Arena, but lost 5-2.

Wild getting Kane-d

The Wild aren’t that unhappy with their defense against Hawks forward Patrick Kane, just disappointed with the results.

“He’s a dangerous player,” Wild forward Zach Parise said. “I think all-in-all we’ve done a pretty good job against him and didn’t give him a lot of touches through the neutral zone —which is his strength and why he’s so dangerous. But he gets that one good look and it’s in, and I guess that’s all they needed.”

No sure thing

Though only four teams have overcome a 3-0 series deficit, two of them have come in the last six seasons —the Philadelphia Flyers against the Boston Bruins in the second round in 2010; and the Los Angeles Kings against the San Jose Sharks in the first round last year.

Current Hawks Kimmo Timonen and Daniel Carcillo played on the Flyers team that beat the Bruins. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were on both teams that pulled it off.

Not even peeking

Because the NHL does not start the next round until the current one is completed, the Hawks almost certainly would get a week off if they completed the sweep of the Wild. But they didn’t dare look that far ahead.

“It’s nice to get rest, but we’re not looking at it like that,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “We’re looking at a good Minnesota team playing at home that we have to be ready for. We’ll take everything as it comes in stride. But we’re focused on [Game 4].”

Out-Wilding the Wild?

The Hawks have showed off their versatility and depth in this series — with four lines scoring in Game 1 and strong defensive play and patience that has been the Wild’s strong suit making the difference in Games 2 and 3.

“I’m not really surprised,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s at team that has obviously has great firepower, but you don’t win championships without being really good defensively.

“They’ve beaten different teams and done it different types of ways. If you open up against them, they can get into that type of game. But they’re certainly capable of playing tight-checking games as well.”

In too tough?

The Wild are better this season, but the Hawks have raised their game to meet the challenge. Right?

“I think they’re the same team,” Wild forward Kyle Brodziak said. “They’re a composed group. They know how to play the game. They know how to take advantage of opportunities, and they’ve done that so far.

“We’ve probably given them more opportunities than we would’ve liked, but it’s the same group that we expected and we know what they’re capable of and we’ve just got to do a better job of managing those certain situations.”

Versteeg ready — if needed

It’s unlikely the Hawks are going to make any changes with a 3-0 series lead. But Quenneville said forward Kris Versteeg, recovering from a lower-body injury after an unproductive first-round series, is cleared to practice.

“We like options and want to get him ready,” Quenneville said.

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