By Adam Hoge
UNITED CENTER (CBS) — The better team in this series has not been the Blackhawks.
And yet, they still hold a 3-2 lead on the Wild in the Western Conference Semifinals after Sunday night’s 2-1 victory at the United Center.
To say it was pretty, however, would be a lie.
The telling moment of the first period? When Patrick Sharp got too far ahead on the rush, dragged his skate to stay on-side and subsequently collided with his teammate who was carrying the puck.
It was that kind of start for the Blackhawks, who fell behind 1-0 to the Wild and had to fight back to become the first team in the second round of the playoffs to win a game after not scoring the first goal.
But fight back they did, scoring two “ugly” goals to steal a game they probably got outplayed in.
With Andrew Shaw having missed the last four games because of injury, the Blackhawks have shown hardly any willingness to get dirty in front of Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. “Net presence” doesn’t appear to be in their vocabulary.
And that’s why it would probably be a good idea for the Blackhawks to take note of how they scored their two goals Sunday night.
Bickell’s second period goal came when he parked himself directly in front of Bryzgalov and deflected Patrick Kane’s shot to the right of the goaltender.
Toews’ third period goal came when he crashed the crease and backhanded a puck that had been pinballed off of at least four players after it was originally shot by Patrick Sharp from the left circle.
Those moments were the exception to the rule, however, as finding Blackhawks players in front of the net was a rarity Sunday night, as it has been most of this series. Yet it was hardly a coincidence that when they did get in front of Bryzgalov Sunday, they scored.
Ugly goals are OK, Hawks. Especially in this series, where not much has been pretty.
“You’re not going to score pretty goals,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think that’s what ignited our second period. I just think that’s the recipe for success going forward. That’s how you’re going to score.”
Sunday’s win will likely get Blackhawks fans off the ledge, but given how this series has gone, there’s a good chance there will be a Game 7 at the United Center Thursday night. If the Blackhawks continue playing like they have for most of this series, they’ll lose when they go back to St. Paul Tuesday, where the Wild haven’t lost this postseason.
Of course, the Blackhawks haven’t lost at home during the playoffs either, so losing Game 6 may be OK, but given the randomness in hockey — specifically the unpredictability of the way the puck bounces — sweating through another one goal game Thursday night would not be an ideal strategy.
“We know it’s going to take our best game and we know we haven’t played it yet. So it’s perfect timing,” Toews said.
Quenneville called the Blackhawks’ second period Sunday night his team’s “best of the series,” but the first period might have been their worst. They’ve yet to put together a full 60-minute effort and that’s been most obvious in front of the net.
You may not be able to control which way the puck bounces, but you can increase the amount of times it might bounce your way by creating havoc in front of the opposing goaltender.
The Blackhawks are a finesse team that thrills their fan base with highlight reel goals, but it’s OK to be lucky too. They’ve simply made it too easy on Bryzgalov, who’s what, the Wild’s seventh-string goaltender at this point?
Be ugly, Blackhawks.
Adam Hoge is a senior writer for CBSChicago.com and a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.