Corey Crawford

Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Wild series preview


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.

Report: Islanders cut first-rounder Barzal from camp

Mathew Barzal
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It seems Mathew Barzal has played in his last game in a New York Islanders’ uniform for a little while.

Barzal took part in the Islanders’ preseason finale against the Washington Capitals on Sunday, but after that contest the Islanders decided to return him to WHL Seattle, per Newsday’s Arthur Staple.

He was taken with the 16th overall pick in 2015 NHL Entry Draft. That selection was well-traveled as it originally belonged to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but was involved in the David Perron trade and then moved to the Islanders as part of Edmonton’s deal to get Griffin Reinhart.

Barzal is noteworthy for his skill and speed, but he may have slipped in the draft due to a knee injury he sustained during the 2014-15 campaign.

The Islanders also reassigned Kirill Petrov, Kevin Czuczman, Scott Mayfield, and Adam Pelech to the AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

Torres offered in-person hearing, potentially setting up long suspension

Torres hit

What will Raffi Torres get this time?

The 33-year-old forward that has become known primarily for his controversial hits has once again put himself in the sights of the NHL’s Department of Players Safety. They confirmed that he was offered an in-person hearing following his hit on Jakub Silfverberg Saturday night. He declined the opportunity to meet with them face-to-face, but the offer itself is an important detail because it gives the league the option to suspend him for more than five games.

It certainly seems like the stage is set for a lengthy suspension. While Torres is not considered a repeat offender as his last suspension came more than 18 months ago, the NHL still retains the right to consider his history when deciding on this matter.

Among other incidents, he was once was banned from 25 games for his hit on Marian Hossa in 2012, although it was later reduced to 21 contests after an appeal. The NHL found that Torres was guilty of breaking three rules for that hit; namely interference, charging, and illegally hitting the head. The NHL is reviewing Torres’ latest incident for the same three violations.

You can see the hit below:

And here it is slowed down:

Torres got a match penalty and Silfverberg left the game. Fortunately, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said that Silfverberg could have returned, but was kept out for precautionary reasons.