CHICAGO – Corey Crawford never had won a playoff series going into this year’s postseason. His stats the past two years were far from stellar, with a 5-8 record and a goals-against average that didn’t dip below 2.21.
But in the Western Conference quarterfinals against Minnesota, the Blackhawks goaltender had the best postseason series of his career. Crawford topped the Wild 5-1 Thursday, making 21 saves. He leads the NHL in goals-against average and saves percentage in the playoffs.
His scoreless streak in regulation play in the series was stopped at 86 minutes, 40 seconds just past the halfway mark of the second period on a goal by Wild center Torrey Mitchell.
“It feels great, but we still have a lot of work ahead of us,” Crawford said. “I’ve always been pretty confident, this whole group is confident. I’m seeing the puck good. The team in general is playing good.”
Crawford’s success is just one of the signs that the Blackhawks are ready to go on a deep run in these playoffs, the likes of which they haven’t seen since winning the Stanley Cup championship in 2010.
Not only is Chicago getting outstanding goaltending, but most facets of its game are clicking. One of the biggest assets the Blackhawks had in the first-round series was its depth. Players skating on the third and fourth lines accounted for nearly half the team’s goals with seven.
“We played pretty good all five games, our goalie played unreal and we have different guys stepping up,” said forward Marian Hossa, who scored two goals. “It’s great to see because it shows how much depth we’ve got.”
On the second line, Patrick Sharp showed he’s recovered from injury, scoring five goals against Minnesota after totaling just six during the regular season in which he missed 14 games from March 9 to April 7.
“All across the board, contributions offensively,” Sharp said. “We’ve got some skill players in here. At the end of the day, we can feel good about moving on. It’s been a while since we won a series. The games are only going to get tougher as we go along.”
Sharp’s linemate, right wing Patrick Kane, has been a magician on the ice, dishing out five assists in the series.
“A lot of us feel that we can play better, and we’ll try to get to that level the next series,” Kane said. “Right now we’ll enjoy this one and see who we play next.”
Chicago’s penalty-kill unit, starring Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger, held the Wild scoreless in 17 attempts, and the Blackhawks defense has been sturdy.
Jonathan Toews, the Blackhawks captain and center on the top line, even got into the act with his first two points of the playoffs Thursday night. He assisted on Hossa’s first-period goal, and added another helper in the third.
“A lot of people were talking about us not scoring all series,” Toews said. “It gives you a lot of energy. You find some jump, just go out there and play and not be afraid to make too many mistakes.”
The third-period goal gave the Blackhawks another boost in their game with just their second power-play goal in 13 opportunities.
Everything seems to going Chicago’s way as it rolls on to the second round, but don’t tell coach Joel Quenneville that.
“I still feel we can get better,” Quenneville said. “I’m not doing cartwheels. There’s another level we can get to. Let’s get angry as we go along here.”