ST. PAUL, Minn. — Patrick Kane has been playing like he never left. Corey Crawford has resolutely rebounded from being benched.
The Chicago Blackhawks have only begun to rev up their game, and the Minnesota Wild have lost their touch at the wrong time.
Kane scored on a power play in the first period, and Crawford and the Blackhawks made the superstar’s goal stand up for a 1-0 win over the Wild on May 5 to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
“Obviously we’d be very happy if you told us we’d be in this position before the series,” said Kane, who has six goals and five assists in nine playoff games to bounce back from the broken collarbone that kept him of the last quarter of the regular season.
“We have to keep it going. We know the hardest game is the one to close it out.”
Game 4 is in Minnesota again on May 7.
“Two things: character and belief,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “There will be no feeling sorry for ourselves. Obviously we’re disappointed to be in this spot, but we’ve got to find a way.”
Crawford made 30 saves, giving him 90 on 94 shots in the three games. “As much confidence as he has, we have in him,” Kane said.
Stifled time after time on chance after chance in their return home, the Wild have scored just once over their last 150-plus minutes on the ice. They were at a loss, trying to explain how to crack the wall that Crawford has become.
“Shoot where he isn’t, and maybe they’ll go in,” said left wing Zach Parise.
The Blackhawks last led a playoff series 3-0 in the Western Conference finals against San Jose in 2010, when they went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Crawford, who was pulled for Scott Darling in the first round against Nashville, returned to his post at the end of that series and has solidified it with this stellar performance against the Wild.
“He’s a star against us. He’s Brodeur. He’s Roy. He’s everybody against us, so we’ve got to find a way to solve that,” Yeo said.
Crawford was as stoic afterward answering questions from reporters as he was in the net.
“It’s nice, but at the same time we can’t get complacent or let up. That team is going to play even harder next game,” he said. “We’ve got to do the same thing.”
Crawford’s rebound control has been superb, but the defense in front of him has been quite effective, too. The Blackhawks blocked 19 shots, playing a safe, patient game after they grabbed the early lead.
Patrick Sharp centered to Andrew Shaw, who poked the puck just enough to his left where Kane skated unabated up the wing with the Blackhawks on the man advantage.
The 26-year-old speedster snapped a low shot that slipped past Devan Dubnyk’s pads to quiet the buzz in the crowd.
Only Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson has more goals in the NHL this postseason than Kane, who has nine goals and six assists in the 14 playoff games against the Wild over the last three years.
“He has a hot stick. He’s dangerous,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think he gives a lot of different looks for the goalies. They don’t know where it’s coming off his stick, and it has some torque on it as well.”
Jason Pominville and Thomas Vanek particularly struggled to get shots on target, their frustration obvious. Mikael Granlund had a breakaway in the second period, but Crawford denied him with his blocker.
The Wild brought the most productive power play in the league into these playoffs, with six conversions in 17 attempts entering this game. But they fell flat with an 0-for-3 performance that included no shots on goal on two of the opportunities.
“They’ve got a lot of firepower. They defend well. They’re good off the rush, and you can’t get caught into that run and gun. If you do, they’ll find ways to put it in,” Pominville said.
(DAVE CAMPBELL, AP Sports Writer)