Blackhawks continue elevating game in playoffs

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Chicago Blackhawks understood they had gotten away with a victory against the Minnesota Wild after Game 1.

It wasn't a pretty win. They blew a 3-0 lead and again gave up three goals in a single period. Their special teams continued to be shaky. Goaltender Corey Crawford still seemed to be off.

As happy as they were to win, the Blackhawks quickly pointed to areas they needed to improve if they were going to top the Wild, the league's hottest team, over a seven-game series. Their defense had to stop giving up goals in spurts. Their special teams had to make a difference at some point. Finally, Crawford had to get back into form.

Two games and two wins later, the Blackhawks possess a 3-0 series advantage on the Wild because they weren't content to just ride a streaking offense. They recognized what parts of their team game had to improve and went out and actually did something about them.

Coming off a Game 2 win in which Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville described as his team’s best all-around performance in the playoffs, the Blackhawks ratcheted up their overall game even more to take a 1-0 win over the Wild in Game 3 in Minnesota.

Chicago's focus was evident from the opening faceoff. The Wild were desperate to get off to a hot start after falling behind in the first two games and ultimately trailing 2-0 in the series. The home crowd was also an important factor for the Blackhawks not to allow the Wild to strike early.

The Blackhawks did better than just contain the Wild's crowd in the first period. They completely silenced it when Patrick Sharp and Andrew Shaw worked the puck through the neutral zone into the offensive zone and onto the stick of a surging Patrick Kane, who delivered his sixth playoff goal at 14 minutes, 6 seconds of the second period. It was one more rush opportunity the Blackhawks capitalized on. Six of their nine goals in the series have come off rush attacks.

"They're great fans here," Kane said. "We've seen how loud it can be in this building. It's something that they use to their advantage and get some momentum off their crowd. It was good to score first and try to play lockdown D after that."

The lockdown defense had come and gone for the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs. They had given up three goals in a single period five times after seven games. But they had also had stretches of dominance, such as when they permitted the Nashville Predators just four third-period shots in Game 6 of their first-round series. The consistency was just lacking.

The Blackhawks filled that defensive void in the past two games. The Blackhawks didn't allow a five-on-five goal in either game and just once gave up more than 12 shots to the Wild in a period. Chicago held opponents without a five-on-five goal in consecutive games only one other time this season, Oct. 25 and 28.

"I thought we did a lot of good things, obviously, to limit some of their opportunities in tight," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I thought when they didn't get those chances, [Crawford] was big for us."

Crawford began resembling his regular-season self with a 30-save performance in Game 2, but he too stepped up his play in Game 3. The Wild had an assortment of can't-miss chances that ended up missing because of Crawford over the 60 minutes. Mikael Granlund was alone with Crawford at the net midway through the second period, and Crawford denied him with a blocker save. There was the puck that was rolling into the net in the third period that Crawford reached back for at the last second and shoved away.

The Wild pushed hard for an equalizer with 15 shots on goal in the third period, and Crawford stopped every one of them. He made 30 saves in all and recorded his fourth career playoff shutout.

Both coaches were quite complimentary of Crawford.

"Crawford, he's a star against us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He's [Martin] Brodeur. He's [Patrick] Roy. He's everybody against, so we've got to find a way to solve that."

Said Quenneville: "It was a great game for him. It was a goalie win. It was one of those games from the outset that we need him to be strong and made some key stops, particularly in the second period and around the net in the third. They go hard to the net. He really held his ground and [was] very effective with his rebound control as well. So, big night for him and for us."

Chicago's special teams also had a big night. The Blackhawks hadn't had a game in the playoffs in which they scored a power-play goal and didn't allow one through six games. They did that on Tuesday. Kane’s goal came on the power play, and the Blackhawks killed off all three of the Wild’s power plays.

Put it all together, and the Blackhawks played just the way they believed they had to in order to pull out a road win in Game 3.

"It was a huge win," Kane said. "I think we were happy with what we did in Games 1 and 2 to get wins at home, but we knew this was going to be a tough game. … We knew games were going to be like this coming into the series, where you're going to have to win like this -- 2-1, 1-0 games. We did that tonight, so great all-around effort."