It was a sight desired by fans for three years: the Chicago Blackhawks shaking hands with their opponents after defeating them in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. In front of over 21,000 fans at United Center, the Blackhawks handily beat the Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Thursday to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. To say that those in the stands were elated is an understatement.
It was a night of firsts for the Blackhawks. It was their first advance to the second round since the 2010 season after two first-round exits in the past two years. Marian Hossa’s power play goal was the first goal scored in the series by the top line of Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad. Marcus Kruger’s wraparound goal in the second period was his first NHL playoff goal. Andrew Shaw also scored his first playoff goal in the second period.
It was another stellar night for Corey Crawford, who made 21 saves and came up with some spectacular ones , including a save on Mikko Koivu that looked physically impossible. His play was so impressive that fans in United Center not only gave him a standing ovation during the second period, they began chanting his name at times.
For the Wild, the series began and ended with goaltender problems. It started with Niklas Backstrom bowing out before the puck even dropped for the first game, which led to Josh Harding starting in net for the first time since the beginning of the season. At the end of the series, Harding was the one to bow out after letting in two goals in a matter of minutes. After the game, Backstrom revealed that he had a sports hernia that required surgery.
You do have to commend Harding for how he played during the series. He was thrust into the spotlight when Backstrom went out, and he went toe-to-toe with the Blackhawks. He frustrated them to no end, keeping guys like Toews and Patrick Kane from scoring. He did all this months after disclosing that he’d been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He’d spent 33 games fighting the effects of interactions with medication and then rehabbing with the Houston Aeros. After all that, he found himself in the playoffs.
Now the Blackhawks sit back and wait to see who their next opponent will be. It all depends on who wins the series between the Anaheim Ducks and Detroit Red Wings. If the Red Wings win, the Blackhawks will face them. If Anaheim wins, the Blackhawks will face the San Jose Sharks. It’s on to the next one, whoever that may be.