The second season started in the Second City last night, as the Hawks welcomed to the United Center the eighth-seeded Minnesota Wild for Game One in a best-of-seven series. With confidence riding high after a whale of a season, which produced the Presidents' Trophy after a 36-7-5 record and a 2-0-1 record against the Wild, the Hawks, or at least its fans, were looking ahead to Round Two.
Oh yeah, not to mention Wild goalie Niklas Bäckström skated off into the locker room, during pre-game warm-ups, after a lower-body injury. Thus, backup Josh Harding was asked to stretch out and enter into his sixth game of the season.
Lock it up; Game One is in the bag!
That was until the puck dropped, and Cal Clutterbuck scored an easy wrister past Corey Crawford from a far angle at just 4 minutes, 48 seconds into the contest.
That goal, mixed in with some stellar play from Harding between the pipes, made for an uneasy first period. Suddenly, images of the 1990-'91 season, and even last year's deflated run, began to run ramped throughout the UC and social media.
The second period started with a much better attack from the Hawks, as though the previous stanza were dress rehearsal. Marian Hossa tied the score with a slick wrister from the left-circle, off a fine pass from Patrick Kane.
Here were the Hawks we remembered during that record-breaking streak which started the season.It was only a matter of time before Harding was pulled and head coach Mike Yeo was asking Danica Patrick if she could throw on a sweater and fill in at the net. However, Harding had other plans as he stopped a fury of shots in the second period and stood his ground.
With close but no scoring in the third period, the Hawks found themselves in yet another overtime situation in the playoffs, making it six out of their last seven. Both Crawford and Harding made some quality saves in the extra period with both goalies stopping nine and seven shots respectively.
With tension riding high in the UC crowd, Johnny Oduya caromed the puck high off the nearside glass from deep within the Hawks' zone, which landed perfectly at center ice for Viktor Stålberg to retrieve, skid on the right-side dot and pass along to Brian Bickell for the game winner with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left in OT, giving the Hawks the 2-1 win.
The crowd leapt to its feet as Bickell rushed to the nearest piece of glass he could find in order to launch himself into it out of sheer joy for scoring the game-winning goal.Bickell has had a flare for the dramatic in the postseason, including last year's efforts, albeit with an early exit, against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Game 2 is set for Friday night, with the puck dropping at 8:30 p.m. No word on the health of Bäckström and if he will lace up his skates to return in net, or whether or not Harding will resume duties in his stead. The Wild actually decided to fly back to Minnesota after the loss last night instead of sticking around until Friday. The extra travel might prove to wear on the Wild, but then again, perhaps regrouping on your turf to lick your wounds isn't a bad idea.
Nevertheless, the Hawks look to take a commanding two-games-to-one advantage before taking to the road for two in Minny. The extra days in between for the Hawks might also provide some extra healing for Dave Bolland and Ray Emery.
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