(SportsNetwork.com) - The Chicago Blackhawks will try to eliminate the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs for a third straight season when the clubs meet Thursday for Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
After winning the first two games of this best-of-seven set at home, the Blackhawks moved one victory away from ending the series with a 1-0 decision in Tuesday's Game 3 battle at Xcel Energy Center.
Chicago ousted the Wild from the opening round in 2013 before taking last spring's conference semifinal matchup in six games. Last season's encounter ended with a 2-1 overtime win by the Blackhawks in St. Paul.
The Blackhawks, who won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and '13, are attempting to reach the conference finals for a third straight spring. They lost in seven games to eventual champion Los Angeles last season.
Minnesota, which beat St. Louis in six games during the opening round, is 2-2 on home ice in these playoffs. If the Wild can manage to break through with a win tonight they will force a Game 5 in Chicago on Saturday. But first, the Wild have to find a way to solve Corey Crawford after the Chicago goaltender shut them out Tuesday in a game which saw Minnesota outshoot the Blackhawks by a 30-22 margin.
Since allowing three goals in the middle period of Chicago's 4-3 Game 1 win, Crawford has blanked Minnesota in six of the next seven stanzas.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville went back to Crawford as his No. 1 option in net after switching to Scott Darling in the starting role during Chicago's opening-round win over Nashville. Crawford, who anchored Chicago's Stanley Cup title run in 2013, has repaid his coach's faith in him by frustrating the Wild with a .957 save percentage in the second round.
Crawford stopped eight shots in the opening period on Tuesday before turning aside all 22 shots thrown at him over the final 40 minutes. He improved to 11-3 against the Wild in the playoffs, registered his first postseason shutout since a 34-save performance against St. Louis on Apr. 21, 2014 and passed Ed Belfour for sole possession of second in franchise history with 36 career playoff wins
"Crawford, he's a star against us," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "He's [Martin] Brodeur. He's [Patrick] Roy. He's everybody against us, so we've got to find a way to solve that."
Patrick Kane scored the lone goal of Game 3 to give the Blackhawks just enough offense to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the series. Kane scored for the fourth straight game and boasts 11 points (6G, 5A) in nine playoff games this spring. He is the second Chicago player in the last 23 years to score in Games 1, 2 and 3 of a playoff series, joining Dustin Byfuglien, who did so during the 2010 Western Conference finals against San Jose.
Kane scored his sixth goal of this postseason with 5:54 left in the first period. After Patrick Sharp carried up the right wing, Andrew Shaw entered the offensive zone and swatted the puck to the left circle, where Kane slid a low wrister through Dubnyk's pads.
"The puck was bouncing there. I think [Sharp] was trying to come over to me," said Kane. "It got to [Shaw] and I think he said he heard me calling for it, so he just kind of threw it over and I got it and tried to shoot it quickly."
Dubnyk's solid 21-save effort was not enough for the Wild, who will face their first elimination game of the 2015 playoffs.
"All we can do now is go win a hockey game," said Dubnyk. "We have to win on Thursday."
The Wild played Game 3 without forwards Justin Fontaine and Chris Stewart and both players are questionable for tonight. Fontaine sat out with a lower- body injury suffered in Game 1, while Stewart was scratched with an arm injury.