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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.
It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.
As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?
If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.
Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.
Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.
The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.
On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.
Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.
The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.
You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.
At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.
Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.
(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)
As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.
Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.
Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.
Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.
Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:
That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.
Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.
For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.
Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.
Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:
Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.
Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.
The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.