Crawford wasn’t happy with his performances in the first two games of the Blackhawks’ series against St. Louis, when he gave up late goals that led to a pair of losses. He refocused and shut out the Blues in the next game, reverting to the poised and confident goaltender that led Chicago to the Stanley Cup last season. Crawford limited St. Louis to six goals over the final three games of the first round and stopped 35 of 36 shots in Chicago’s Game 6 victory. He’s among the playoff leaders in save percentage (.935) and goals-against average (1.98).
The center missed the last six games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury, creating some question as to whether he would be at full strength for the playoffs. Consider them answered, in the affirmative. Toews scored three goals, all of them game-winners, in the Blackhawks’ first-round victory over St. Louis; he also added four assists and logged nearly 24 minutes of ice time per game. Chicago’s captain was named a finalist for the NHL’s Mark Messier Leadership Award earlier this week.
A finalist for the NHL’s Norris Trophy, the reliable Keith has found another gear in the playoffs. He finished the regular season with a career-high 55 assists, tops among NHL defensemen, and has balanced his defensive responsibility with an increased role in the Blackhawks’ offense during the postseason. Keith is tied with Toews for the team lead in playoff points with seven (two goals, five assists) and leads it with an average of 29 minutes, 51 seconds of ice time per game. He was at his best in the deciding Game 6 against the Blues, with a goal and three assists.
must step up
On a team loaded with offensive talent, Sharp was the primary thorn in the Wild’s side last season, scoring five goals as the Blackhawks won their first-round playoff series in five games. The winger led the Blackhawks during the regular season with 34 goals, 78 points and 10 power-play goals. But he has been largely dormant thus far in the playoffs.
breaking it down
The Blackhawks had the league’s second-most potent offense during the regular season, scoring 261 goals. They have not lost a step in the postseason. After dropping the first two games of their opening-round series against St. Louis, they scored 14 goals on a stingy Blues defense to sweep the next four.
The Blackhawks allowed 35.8 shots per game in the playoffs’ first round, the second-highest average of any team. But they kept the damage to a minimum. Behind a revitalized Crawford and a superb penalty kill, the Blackhawks have compiled a goals-against average of 2.33, third best in the postseason. Their wealth of skilled defensemen also includes Keith’s defensive partner, Brent Seabrook, who had two goals and four assists in the first round despite missing three of the six games after being suspended for a wicked hit on the Blues’ David Backes.
Crawford played every game during the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup last season and topped an outstanding regular season with an even stronger performance in the playoffs, recording a goals-against average of 1.84 and save percentage of .932 in the postseason. In 43 career playoff games, he is 25-17 with a GAA of 2.03 and save percentage of .926. Backup Antti Raanta played in 25 games in the regular season, going 13-5-4 with a GAA of 2.71 and save percentage of .897.
A rash of injuries and a post-Olympic slump created some challenges for coach Joel Quenneville this season. He appears to have gotten his team back on track — and himself, too, after being fined $25,000 by the NHL for an obscene gesture he made to an official in Game 1 against the Blues. Quenneville has the luxury of a deep, multitalented roster and knows how to motivate his players.
Like the Wild, the Blackhawks had a poor penalty kill during the regular season but have improved dramatically in the playoffs. In their six-game series against St. Louis, they allowed only two power-play goals on 29 attempts to top the NHL at 93.1 percent, with defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Keith leading the way. As for the power play, location is everything. Chicago is hitting on 25 percent of its attempts at United Center (two goals on eight chances) but has a woeful 8.3 percent success rate on the road (1-for-12).
Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Patrick Sharp-Ben Smith-Patrick Kane
Brandon Saad-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Brandon Bollig-Michal Handzus-Kris Versteeg
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Extras: Forwards Joakim Nordstrom, Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin; defensemen Sheldon Brookbank, David Rundblad, Klas Dahlbeck
Injuries: Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder surgery) is out.