Corey Crawford

Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Wild series preview

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1. Is Corey Crawford a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie?

Most of the time, people don’t question a goalie tandem that just won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season. But 28-year-old starter Corey Crawford is 0-for-2 in career playoff series and really struggled last season, so people are bound to question this one. Crawford, along with backup Ray Emery, combined to give the Blackhawks a .923 save percentage in 2013, the second highest in the NHL. There were a couple of hiccups in March, but April was solid again. If Crawford isn’t up to the challenge, it will be interesting to see how quickly Joel Quenneville is willing to switch to Emery. It’s been a while, but Emery did backstop the Senators to the finals in 2007. That “what if” scenario, of course, assumes Emery is healthy enough to play. He’s been ruled out for Game 1 with a lower-body injury.

2. Can the Blackhawks get the power play going?

This might’ve been a bigger issue if Chicago hadn’t been so dominant five-on-five this season. Even with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, the ‘Hawks finished with the 19th-ranked power play, scoring on just 16.7 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. It’s a bit perplexing given all the top-end offensive talent they have, but the PP was a problem last year, too.

3. Will Dave Bolland be able to play? (And if he can, will he play well?)

Bolland missed the last three games of the regular season with a groin injury and has been ruled out for at least the first game against the Wild. The 26-year-old center has had a tough season, scoring just 14 points in 35 games despite opportunities to play with talented forwards. It appears the Blackhawks will enter the postseason with veteran Michal Handzus as their second-line center, which — no offense to Handzus — is hardly ideal. Bolland has proven himself in past playoffs and has 37 points in 49 games while playing well defensively and getting under the opponents’ skin. Chicago needs him to be that player again.

4. Can the Wild build on the last game of the season?

The pessimist may file this under “congratulations for not choking against a terrible team,” but Minnesota’s playoff-clinching victory Saturday in Colorado showed resolve, especially after Friday’s disaster against the Oilers. The Wild head into the playoffs with a 6-9-1 record in their last 16 games. Obviously, that’s not good. But head coach Mike Yeo — who may have been looking for a new job if the Wild hadn’t beaten the Avs — was feeling positive about his team after getting it done in Denver. “Let’s make it clear: We’re not done,” Yeo said. “We’re not going to sit on cloud nine and say this is a huge accomplishment. This is a step, a big step, a difficult step for us. Now that confidence is there.”

5. Can Ryan Suter shut down Chicago’s top guns?

OK, maybe “shut down” is unrealistic. How about “somewhat contain”? No NHL defenseman played more minutes than Suter did this season. The 28-year-old Norris Trophy candidate who (along with forward Zack Parise) signed for big money in the summer has so far been all his new team could ask for. Suter averaged 27:17 in ice time, scoring four goals and adding 28 assists. The rest of Minnesota’s defense will have to overachieve if the Wild have any hope of pulling an upset. Younsters Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have zero playoff experience, so it’ll be up to Suter to lead the way.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.