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Toews, Crawford lead Blackhawks to wild victory

Vinnie Hinostroza reaches for the puck in front of Minnesota's Erik Haula during the second period Wednesday night in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Blackhawks rarely get too fired up about victories in early February, but there was a palpable sense of accomplishment in the dressing room following Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild.

The Hawks beat the Wild for the first time in nine regular-season meetings. They overcame a lengthy and controversial replay challenge that went against them. They overcame a late game-tying goal sprung on another iffy bit of officiating. They were led by some of their biggest names — Jonathan Toews had two assists and the game-winning power-play goal in overtime in a vintage performance, Corey Crawford was often spectacular in a 35-save effort, and Duncan Keith was a force at both ends. They had all four lines rolling, with every player playing at least 11 minutes.

And most importantly, they kept first place in the Central Division within reach. As far as February games go, this was indeed a big one for the Hawks.

“Huge win,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had to win the game. It keeps us within striking distance.”

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau joked before the game that the Hawks were simply “trying to make us feel good” by deeming the showdown the “biggest game of the season,” in Patrick Kane’s words. But the Wild entered the game up six points with two games in hand. A regulation loss would have put the Hawks eight points back. Instead, they’re within five.

Now, some caveats. The Wild were coming off a nine-day road trip, playing the second half of a back-to-back after getting in from Winnipeg well after midnight, and were starting their backup goaltender, Darcy Kuemper, instead of their All-Star, Devan Dubnyk. The Hawks, meanwhile, were at full strength and had three days off leading up to the game.

But the Wild still gave the Hawks all they could handle in one of the best games of the year.

The Hawks led 2-0 on goals by rookies Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz, but the Wild responded in a big way. Thirty-seven seconds after Schmaltz’s goal early in the second, Jared Spurgeon made it 2-1. Crawford did his best to stave off the Minnesota onslaught, making big stops on Alex Tuch, Ryan Suter, Nate Prosser, Eric Staal and Charlie Coyle in about a four-minute span before Zach Parise finally broke through with the equalizer.

The Hawks challenged Parise’s goal because they thought Parise was offside, and replays seemed to support their case. But after an absurdly long review — more than six minutes, which included linesman Ryan Daisy talking on an iPhone — the replays were deemed inconclusive, and the goal stood.

“It is what it is,” Toews said. “You’re always mad at the rule when it goes against you, and you love it when it’s in your favor.”

The Hawks took the lead back at 17:24 of the second when Niklas Hjalmarsson left a nice pass for Richard Panik, who tucked the puck behind Kuemper to make it 3-2.

But the Wild kept coming. Even after Crawford made big stops on Parise early in the third and Charlie Coyle later in the third, Minnesota — sprung by a debatably legal pick by Staal on Hjalmarsson — tied it up when Marco Scandella fed Erik Haula on the doorstep at 16:57.

Crawford made two more huge stops in overtime — denying Mikael Granlund in front and Suter on a breakaway — before Toews punched in the game-winner on a power play. Toews, for all the talk about how he’s struggled all season, now has four goals and seven assists in his last seven games, heating up at just the right time.

“You need all you top guys to score if you want to be on top, and if you want to win in the playoffs,” Crawford said. “Nobody was worried. We’ve got enough scoring in here that we’ve been able to stay up there [in the standings]. And we’re even more dangerous once he gets hot.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com
Twitter: @marklazerus