The Chicago Blackhawks were nearly unstoppable in the regular season. They got off to a 21-0-3 start and never lost more than two games in a row.
For most of the campaign they seemed destined to win the Presidents’ Trophy — but as we’ve seen time and time again, regular season success does not always translate into playoff victories.
Chicago entered the postseason with some significant of question marks. Could goaltender Corey Crawford, as good as he was in the 2013 campaign, step up when his team needed him the most? How would a squad that faced little in the way of adversity this year deal with it in the playoffs? Were they truly ready to battle for the Stanley Cup after back-to-back first-round exits following their salary cap mandated exodus in 2010?
After cruising past the Minnesota Wild in the first round, the Blackhawks found themselves down 3-1 in their second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Chicago managed to fight back, in part because of the lineup adjustments they made, but also because Crawford performed well under pressure. He limited the Red Wings to five goals over three consecutive win-or-go-home games. Overall, the 28-year-old netminder has a 1.74 GAA and .935 save percentage in the playoffs.
Chicago’s depth players have also stepped up. When the Blackhawks were forced to shed salary in 2010, they lost a lot of key role players. However, forwards Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus, and Michael Frolik have all made important contributions during the 2013 playoffs just as guys like Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and Tomas Kopecky helped make the 2010 Blackhawks Cup winners.
Now all that stands between Chicago and its goal are the Boston Bruins. Beating the Bruins would be no small accomplishment, but regardless of what happens, the Blackhawks have already proven a lot this year.