|CHI Leads Series 3 - 1|
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith hasn't slept in days. Following his team's 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series, he and his teammates appear ready to put the Wild to bed.
The victory gives the Presidents' Trophy winners a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series as it shifts back to the United Center for Game 5 on Thursday night (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2).
The last 36 hours have been a whirlwind for Keith, who said he last slept Monday morning. After practice at Xcel Energy Center, Keith learned his wife Kelly-Rae was ready to give birth to the couple's first child, a boy, who was born Tuesday morning.
Keith was by his wife's side in Chicago, then flew to Minnesota and played a team-high 23:57 seconds in Game 4 -- spearheading a stifling defensive effort that blocked more shots than it allowed and helped secure Corey Crawford's second career playoff shutout.
Keith also played a pivotal role in stonewalling the Wild's power play, which went 0-for-6 on the night and is 0-for-15 in this series.
"It's just been non-stop, on the go. So much excitement," Keith said. "I might sleep until the next game."
Chicago finished the night with 26 blocked shots -- nearly three times as many as Minnesota, keeping Crawford clean for a good chunk of the evening. He made 25 saves in a ho-hum effort for him that was, for lack of a better word, simple.
"We just go about our business. We've had that calm, collective confidence all year long," Crawford said. "I think we definitely showed that tonight."
Minnesota came out with good momentum to start and drew a power play 1:06 after the opening faceoff. Unfortunately, that was the problem for the Wild all night. Chicago used its penalty kill to gain momentum instead of lose it, and often used such kills to start pick up its own pace.
"Our PK definitely won us the game tonight," Crawford said. "So many power-play situations for them and we just kept out cool, we didn't freak out at the refs or lose it on each other -- we just stuck with it, played hard. Obviously we came through."
"I thought the penalty kill was outstanding," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It starts with the goaltender in those situations. Six isn't a normal number for us, two or three is usually our quota. Just an outstanding job blocking shots, getting clears. I commend them for doing an outstanding job."
It didn't help Minnesota that it was down to its third goaltender of the series at the start of the second period after backup-turned-starter Josh Harding sustained what looked like a lower-body injury.
With 4:23 remaining in the first, Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews attacked the Wild net with the puck. After going forehand-to-backhand, he lost control of the puck into the corner. Harding sprawled to make the stop, and Toews landed awkwardly on the goalie's left leg.
Harding remained down for several seconds before getting to his feet. Play continued for more than a minute until the next whistle, when Harding could get looked at by a trainer.
Minnesota killed off a penalty and Harding finished the period, stopping five of six shots before being replaced by rookie Darcy Kuemper.
Harding's injury is the second to strike a Wild goaltender in this series. Niklas Backstrom, scheduled to start Game 1, suffered a lower-body injury during warm-ups prior to that game and hasn't played since. After Harding's injury, he dressed and served as Kuemper's backup.
Just over a minute into Kuemper's first career playoff appearance, Patrick Sharp beat him with a snap shot through a screen on the first shot he faced. The goal, Sharp's second of the game and fourth of the series, pushed the Blackhawks' lead to 2-0, delivering a serious mental blow to a team ravaged by key injuries.
"I would have shot that puck no 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. More often than not, they go in."
"It's a tough situation for Kuemps to come into," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "You can't worry about those things. You take what's given to you, put your head down and get back to work."
Chicago jumped ahead 8:48 into the game when a failed breakout pass by Mikko Koivu at the right half-wall ended up on the stick of Marian Hossa. He dished to Michal Handzus on his left, who fired a wrist shot that was tipped in by a crashing Sharp in front.
Had the pass connected, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle would have been sprung on an odd-man break. Instead, Chicago turned it into the eventual game-winning goal.
"It's one of those… it's the right play by [Koivu], if that gets through, we have a 2-on-1," Parise said. "Unfortunately, it didn't."
The two-goal effort by Sharp was his second of the series. He also scored a pair in a 5-2 victory in Game 2. Chicago hasn't suffered a regulation loss in any game Sharp has played in this season, going 25-0-3 during the regular season. Minnesota's Game 3 win came in overtime.
Bryan Bickell added an insurance goal for the Blackhawks with less than eight minutes to play, his third tally of the series.
Kuemper stopped 16 of 18 shots but did not figure into the decision. Despite playing only 20 minutes and seeing six shots, Harding was tagged with his third loss of the series.
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