Tested by upstart Wild, defending champion Blackhawks make most of few opportunities
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks know that holding on to the Stanley Cup isn’t going to be easy.
They wouldn’t have it any other way.
Patrick Kane scored on a backhand at 9:42 of overtime to lift the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday night, moving one step closer to defending their title.
They needed to come back from a 2-0 deficit to beat St. Louis in the first series and were pushed hard by the upstart Wild in Round 2. They will meet either Anaheim or Los Angeles in the Western Conference finals. Anaheim leads that series 3-2 and Game 6 is Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
“It was a very competitive series,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “Both these series were tight, tough, demanding. But certainly you get a break here about what we accomplished. We should be excite about what we’ve achieved, enjoy the break, knowing we have a very tough opponent coming up.”
Kris Versteeg scored at 1:58 of the first and Corey Crawford made 34 saves for the Blackhawks, who are 14-0 in Games 5 or 6 of playoff series that were tied after Game 4. They’re also 12-2 in games with a chance to win a series, including 6-1 on the road.
The Blackhawks were outplayed for much of the series and frustrated by Minnesota’s tight checking and speed in transition that limited them to fewer than 22 shots in four of the six games. But the veterans were able to cash in on the few opportunities that presented themselves, especially in Game 6.
“I don’t know what it is against this team; we never really seem to play our best, whether dating back to last year’s playoffs or even this year,” said Kane, whose Blackhawks beat the Wild 4-1 in the first round last year. “We still feel we have another level to get to. It’s exciting to say you didn’t play your best and you still won a series in the second round of the playoffs. That’s a positive thing going forward.”
Erik Haula scored and Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 25 shots for the Wild, who pushed a frenetic pace for much of the night but missed prime chances to score.
They paid for it in the extra period, when a simple dump-in by Brent Seabrook took an unusual bounce back toward the slot. The puck slid past Peter Regin but not Kane, who deked once and flipped it into the net.
“Whatever it is, if the luck finds me or the heavens above give me some blessings in overtime, I’ll keep taking it,” Kane said. “We have a bunch of guys with experience; everyone’s done it. But it’s always exciting when you do.”
With their offense handcuffed for much of the series, the Blackhawks had to grind this one out. Their stifling penalty kill unit again shutout the Wild on Tuesday night and killed 18 of 20 power plays in the series.
Undaunted, the Wild peppered Crawford throughout the game, getting energy from a raucous home crowd that had willed the team to a 5-0 record in Xcel Energy Center in these playoffs. Haula scored on a breakaway early in the second period to tie the game 1-1, but they couldn’t push anything else past Crawford, who stopped Justin Fontaine twice on breakaways and got a little luck himself when Zach Parise and Jason Pominville each missed open nets.
“We shot, we tried to get traffic in front of him and screen him and we had great opportunities,” Parise said. “We had breakaways, we had posts. But we just couldn’t convert, we couldn’t get that second (goal).”
Cody McCormick had another chance in the third period, but was stymied by Crawford’s left pad.
“They kept coming at us. Tough series, really tough series,” Crawford said. “I don’t know, we just have that confidence, though, going into overtime, felt like we were going to get it done.”
NOTES: The Wild had goalie Darcy Kuemper dressed for action for the first time since he was removed in the third period of Game 6 of the first round series against Colorado because of what the team labeled an upper body injury. ... Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival was a healthy scratch for the second straight game.