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Blackhawks blank Wild for 3-1 series edge

The SportsXchange

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford stopped every shot that came his way on Tuesday, but the pucks he didn't have to stop were maybe just as important as his team took a stranglehold on its first-round playoff series.

Patrick Sharp scored two goals, and Crawford had 25 saves as the Blackhawks blanked the Minnesota Wild 3-0 to grab a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. The Blackhawks' defense was the story of the night, as Chicago killed six Minnesota power plays and blocked 26 shots.

"That helps a lot," said Crawford, who got his second career playoff shutout. "Our (penalty kill) definitely won us the game tonight. We blocked a lot of shots and we cleared pucks when we needed to. It was definitely a big effort by our guys on the penalty kill."

Minnesota, which breathed some life into the series with an overtime win Sunday, dominated long stretches of the game Tuesday but either could not solve Crawford or could not get the puck to the net. In contrast to the consistency in the Chicago goal, there was chaos in Minnesota's crease.

Wild starting goalie Josh Harding played the first 20 minutes, stopping five of the six shots he faced. However, he was slow to get up after a first-period collision with Jonathan Toews, who cut to the net and collided with the goalie in the crease. Harding finished the period, but backup Darcy Kuemper started the second period.

"I kind of had a feeling I might be going in, so I tried to focus as quick as I could," Kuemper said. "As a backup, your job is to be ready if you're needed. No excuses. I've got to be focused and ready to go."

The first playoff shot Kuemper ever faced is one he would like to forget. After a Wild turnover in the neutral zone just a minute into the middle period, Sharp corralled the puck and sent a harmless-looking shot on net that Kuemper missed, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead.

"I was going to shoot that puck. It didn't matter who was in net," Sharp said. "Anytime you can gain the blue line with speed and use the defenseman as a screen, it's a good idea to shoot the puck, and more often than not, those go in. I know they're going to make a big deal that it was his first shot, but he's a good goalie, and he makes saves if he sees the puck. I was shooting it either way."

Sharp also scored the first goal of the game, tipping a shot in front after Marian Hossa had intercepted Mikko Koivu's breakout pass. Sharp converted the turnover into a Chicago lead at 8:48 of the first period.

The Wild had numerous chances to get back into the game via the power play, as the Blackhawks were whistled for six penalties. However, Minnesota's man-advantage unit remained stymied, going 0-for-6 on the power play and falling to 0-for-15 in the series.

"Great start, and unfortunately couldn't capitalize and fell behind, and I think that kind of affected some things we had going," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "I don't think that we necessarily responded well to being behind, staying with our game in certain situations. But certainly that game was hanging there for us to climb back into tonight."

Bryan Bickell added a goal -- his third of the series -- late in the third period for Chicago.

"Our whole team, from the defense out, and Corey started it in net by making saves," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, praising his team's overall effort. "Our team had much more bite to it and a lot more purpose in our game and more speed, and we were more direct in our play. So I think in all facets we had a purpose, and it was much more efficient."

Game 5 is Thursday night at United Center in Chicago.

NOTES: Goalie Niklas Backstrom, who started 41 of 48 regular-season games for the Wild but was injured in warmups before the first playoff game, joined the team on the bench in uniform in the third period as an emergency replacement for Harding, but he did not play. ... Both teams got positive news regarding NHL awards between Game 3 and Game 4. On Monday, Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad was named one of the three finalists for the Calder Trophy, given to the league's top rookie. Saad had 27 points in 47 games this season, and he started Tuesday's game on the team's top line. Earlier in the day Tuesday, Wild defenseman Ryan Suter was named a Norris Trophy finalist, for the award given to the league's top defenseman. Suter, who came to Minnesota as a free agent last summer, led the league in playing time this season, averaging better than 27 minutes per game on the ice. ... Left wing Daniel Carcillo made his playoff debut for the Blackhawks after being a healthy scratch in the first three games of the series. Renowned as an agitator, Carcillo was called upon after the Wild played a much more physical style in winning Game 3. True to his reputation, Carcillo was whistled for an interference penalty in the opening period on Tuesday. ... The news about Suter's Norris candidacy softened the blow for Wild fans just a little bit after they were stung Monday when rookie defenseman Jonas Brodin was not named a finalist for the Calder. At 19, Brodin was the youngest defenseman in the NHL this season, and he led all rookies in takeaways and time on the ice.
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