CHICAGO – Here’s what I found in the Minnesota Wild locker room after the Blackhawks’ resounding 4-1 win Sunday at the United Center.
Two large trash bins filled mostly with empty paper cups featuring Gatorade logos. Two oscillating fans, not in use. What seemed to be miles of discarded hockey tape. A half-empty jar of Pedialyte. A white dry-erase board that someone had wiped clean.
“Twenty-five after,” a team official barked as a few players lingered at their lockers. “Twenty-five after, on the bus.”
It wasn’t exactly an uplifting scene.
Don’t feel too badly, Minnesota. This is how the Hawks treat most of their guests.
The Hawks’ bus continues to gather speed after six consecutive playoff wins, including four against the St. Louis Blues and two against the Wild. They’ll take a 2-0 series lead to Minnesota on Tuesday for Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals, and it’s not crazy to think that they could complete the sweep Friday.
Nobody knows for sure whether brooms will be needed, of course. Hockey is the most random major sport we have – that’s not an insult, merely an observation – and one measly bounce can turn around a game and a series.
In the third period Sunday, the Wild flirted with that game-changing bounce. Then, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford squished their hopes with his fly swatter.
Fine, so it wasn’t a fly swatter. It was a goaltenders stick, and Crawford used it like a baseball bat to swat a puck out of mid air as it tumbled toward the net. His acrobatic save prevented what would have been a game-tying goal by the Wild to make it 2-2.
Instead, the Hawks scored twice in the final three minutes to seal a 4-1 win.
Wild forward Charlie Coyle had a front-row seat for the highlight-reel save. After Crawford swatted the puck, it landed on the top of the net and prompted a whistle.
How close had the Wild come to tying the game and silencing a sellout crowd?
“Inches,” Coyle said, shaking his head. “You know?”
Yes, I know. (Don’t tell Coyle, but that’s why I brought it up.)
“He gets a tip on that,” said Coyle, replaying the sequence in his mind. “If he doesn’t, it could be in the net, and it’s a different game right there. But that’s how it goes. Sometimes, you get bounces. Sometimes, you don’t.”
Again, a reminder: This is how the Hawks treat most of their guests.
The Hawks are so talented on offense, defense and between the pipes that they often leave opponents shaking their heads after games and wondering what just happened. Coach Joel Quenneville’s crew is 5-0 on home ice during the playoffs, and they share the NHL lead with 29 goals scored during the postseason.
Meanwhile, Crawford continues to be a stalwart in the net.
Off of the ice, Crawford is soft-spoken and humble, or basically the total opposite of what we all witnessed in Grant Park last summer. He described his save in simple terms of action and reaction, even though few people on Earth could do what he did.
“[It] kind of popped up and I wasn’t sure if it was falling back toward the net, so I just tried to whack it behind the net,” Crawford said. “I just caught enough of it. I almost missed it, where it might have gone in. Just enough to land on top.”
Too bad, so sad, Minnesota. Please discard your paper cups in the trash bins. Your bus is waiting.
“We’re a play or two away,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
Yep. And Crawford made the play.
“We weren’t that far off,” Yeo said. “That game was hanging there for us.”
Yep. And Crawford swatted it out of mid air.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.