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Bickell's OT goal lifts Hawks in opener

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- In a battle of goalies who weren't originally supposed to start, the Chicago Blackhawks' Corey Crawford barely beat out Minnesota Wild counterpart Josh Harding on Tuesday in Game 1 of the teams' NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series.

The Blackhawks won 2-1 when Bryan Bickell tallied his fifth career playoff goal at 16:35 of overtime following a picture-perfect centering pass from Viktor Stalberg. Bickell took the pass across the goal crease and beat Harding with a backhand shot in front of 21,428 at the United Center.

"That was a heck of a play," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "(Stalberg) used his great speed and saw the presence of Bick coming late with his speed. ... Good ending to a game that I thought we really got better as the game went on."

The bigger story was the goalie matchup -- and how it came to be.

Ray Emery was penciled in to start for Chicago, but he was scratched due to the lingering effects of a lower-body injury suffered in the April 24 game at Edmonton.

Crawford started in Emery's place and had a strong performance, stopping 26 of Minnesota's 27 shots.

Harding, meanwhile, was outstanding, stopping 35 of 37 shots. He was a late insertion when normal Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom pulled up lame during pregame warm-ups.

"I don't have much of an update for you (on Backstrom's status)," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "Lower body. Pretty much getting ready to pull up the lineup and post the lineup and sure enough find out that he's not suited to go, so that was a bit of a curveball to say the least."

While Quenneville was noncommittal, several Chicago media reports said Crawford might be staying in goal for a while. Emery reportedly is questionable at best for Game 2 on Friday, also at the United Center.

"Every game is huge," Crawford said. "Obviously, you want to win the first one to set the momentum and feel good about yourself for the next one. I think, especially, winning in overtime, staying patient and sticking with our game plan ... (and) just keep battling."

Although the Blackhawks would not reveal the specifics of Emery's injury, some reports claim that it may be a groin issue.

As for Backstrom's absence, Wild center Kyle Brodziak said, "It's a tough situation. I don't know if many guys saw what happened to (Backstrom) or know really what happened to him. It's a tough situation, but you have to applaud Josh (Harding) on the way he came in, and in a tough situation play the way he did."

What's even more amazing is Tuesday was only the sixth game Harding has played in this season. He missed 33 games during the regular season due to injury, and Tuesday was just the second time he's played since Feb. 7.

"I just figured that I was in if I took the rest of the warm-up and prepared like I was playing," Harding said. "I prepared like I should've.

"Obviously we would've liked a better outcome, but we definitely put up a fight tonight, and we're going to come back, put the work boots on tomorrow and get better tomorrow."

The Blackhawks struggled throughout the game with several missed passes and had difficulty transitioning from defense to offense.

Crawford had a less than auspicious start. Minnesota took an early 1-0 lead at 4:49 of the first period when Cal Clutterbuck slammed home a 30-foot slap shot from the left circle.

"That's not the way you want to start a game," Crawford said. "I can't remember what time it was on the clock when I got that shot. I wasn't getting any work, but I just tried to get myself in the game after that."

As well as he did overall Tuesday, Crawford still has a shaky career playoff record, with just six wins in 15 postseason appearances.

The Blackhawks kept pounding at Harding late in the first period and into the second, finally scoring when Patrick Kane gave a perfect feed to Marian Hossa, who pushed in a 10-foot shot to tie the game at 1-1 at 2:23. The goal came on the power play.

Tuesday marked the eighth time in Chicago's last nine playoff games that the Blackhawks have gone to overtime, dating back to Game 6 of the 2011 Western Conference quarterfinals vs. Vancouver.

"It's going to be a good series," Bickell said. "It was special (scoring the game-winner) for this city, these fans and even the teammates to get that OT goal and give us the win."

NOTES: This is the first postseason meeting between the Wild and Blackhawks. ... Minnesota still leads the all-time series vs. Chicago 27-19-3. ... The Wild are making their first playoff appearance in five seasons and only the fourth overall in team history. ... With Emery sidelined, Henrik Karlsson was listed as the Blackhawks' backup goalie. Karlsson did not see any regular-season action with the Hawks, having played the entire season with their farm team in Rockford, Ill. ... Chicago allowed the fewest goals of any team in the NHL this season, 97. ... Chicago's .802 points percentage during the regular season was the fifth best in NHL history. ... Tuesday marked the Blackhawks' 215th consecutive United Center home sellout (including playoffs), the longest current sellout streak of any team in the NHL. ... The Blackhawks posted a 2-0-1 record against the Wild during the lockout-shortened regular season. ... NASCAR star Danica Patrick was in attendance at the game and took part in a shooting contest between the second and third periods. She impressively made her first shot from center ice, but then missed the last three. Patrick grew up in Roscoe, Ill., about 90 miles northwest of Chicago, just north of Rockford.
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