THREE KEY PLAYERS
A candidate for both the Hart Trophy as league MVP and the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward, the Chicago captain is considered one of the most well-rounded players in the game. He also is one of the strongest leaders in the NHL, a quality that will be on full display in the playoffs. Toews finished the regular season with 23 goals, 25 assists and was a team-high plus-28.
Greater maturity and a deeper commitment this season have made Kane a Hart Trophy contender, too. He leads the Blackhawks with 23 goals (tied with Toews) and 32 assists and is the league’s fifth-leading scorer. Kane has improved his consistency as well, and he enters the playoffs on a hot streak with three goals and six assists in the final six games of the regular season.
The rookie winger developed quickly this season, drawing Calder Trophy buzz as he thrived on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa. Tough and physical, Saad contributed 10 goals and 17 assists and is fifth in scoring among NHL rookies. He also is plus-17.
ONE UNSUNG HERO
A shoulder injury limited the second-line winger to 28 games this season. Chicago did not lose in regulation when he was in the lineup. Sharp had six goals and 14 assists in his truncated regular season and complemented Kane well. The Blackhawks hope he can get into a groove in the playoffs at even strength and give a boost to the power play as well.
BREAKING IT DOWN
The marquee names get the attention, but the Blackhawks’ depth is equally impressive. They are the second-most potent offense in the league with 3.10 goals per game, and all four lines contribute. Saad, Toews and Hossa make for a powerful top line, with a combined 50 goals and 56 assists. The third line of Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg is dangerous, too, with 27 goals among them.
Many Wild fans still lament the trade that sent Eden Prairie native and former Gopher Nick Leddy to the Blackhawks, and that has only grown this season. The swift, puck-moving defenseman has polished his defensive play to help Chicago hold opponents to 102 goals, fewest in the NHL. Leddy is a plus-15 for a deep group led by stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Corey Crawford and Ray Emery give Chicago a strong 1-2 punch; they combined to win the NHL’s Jennings Trophy, given to the goaltenders of the team allowing the fewest goals in the regular season. Crawford will start Game 1, but Emery — who will miss Game 1 because of a lower-body injury — is just as effective. The two recorded seven shutouts, tied for most in the league. Crawford was 19-5-5 in the regular season with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage, while Emery won his first 12 decisions this season en route to a 17-1-0 mark, a 1.94 GAA and a .922 save percentage.
The savvy Joel Quenneville has won 660 NHL games and two Stanley Cups, with Chicago in 2010 and as a Colorado assistant in 1996. He has handled his roster admirably this season, getting the most out of superstars and blue-collar players alike.
The Blackhawks made major improvements on the penalty kill this season, finishing third in the league at 87.2 percent and scoring five shorthanded goals. A year ago, they were ranked 27th. The power play has gained steam recently but has not been their strong suit, connecting on only 16.7 percent of its attempts.
BY THE NUMBERS
Chicago’s record when scoring first this season.
Players remaining from the roster that won the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Power-play goals given up by the Blackhawks in the past 20 games.
Consecutive games in which Chicago scored a point to begin the season, an NHL record.