By Craig D. Schroepfer
Former NHL head coach Barry Melrose has a saying that gets mentioned frequently each spring during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“This time of year your best players have to be your best players.”
That was the case in Chicago for Game 5 as the Blackhawks rallied from a 1-0 deficit, defeating Minnesota 2-1. Chicago now leads the series 3 games to 2.
The Wild got on the scoreboard first as Erik Haula followed his own shot with a backhand attempt that got past Corey Crawford, giving the Wild a 1-0 lead. That looked like a good omen for Minnesota at the time as teams that scored first in the second round of the playoffs were 18-0.
In the second period the Blackhawks stepped up their play and took control of the game. It paid off on the power play as Bryan Bickell scored his team leading 6th goal of the playoffs, tipping a shot from Patrick Kane past Ilya Bryzgalov, tying the game 1-1.
The score would remain that way until 4:33 into the 3rd period. The Blackhawks were deep in the Minnesota zone and circling Bryzgalov. Marian Hossa would put a shot on goal with Bryzgalov making the initial save. Chicago captain Jonathan Toews was in the right place at the right time, getting his stick on the puck and tipping it past Bryzgalov to give the Blackhawks their first lead of the game 2-1.
“It’s just an ugly goal I think.” Toews said about his game-winner. “As a line we were playing well and looking for a way to score and I happened to get an ugly one on the side. It felt good that we could hold on and play the rest of that period with a one goal lead.”
The game-winning goal by Toews is an example of a key player coming up big, something that wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“He’s unbelievable. That’s why he’s a superstar.” Hossa said of Toews. “He’s a great leader on and off the ice and he finds a way to score big goals and tonight is a great example. He went hard to the net and put the puck in.”
Minnesota had their chances to tie the game late in the third period but Crawford came up with a couple key saves to preserve the victory for Chicago.
“It sucks to lose a game like this.” Minnesota head coach Mike Yeo said after the game. “Obviously when you lose, you’re frustrated, but I think there has been enough in the series where we should feel confident. We also realize we better be ready for Game 6.”
The loss puts the Wild in familiar territory, down 3-2 in the series. The good news for Minnesota is that Game 6 takes place at Xcel Energy Center where they are 5-0 at home during the playoffs. The bad news is Chicago has won five straight games when having an opportunity to clinch a playoff series.
In Game 5 the best players for the Blackhawks got the job done. Now it’s Minnesota’s turn for their best players to step up in Game 6.
If they don’t, there may not be a seventh game to play.