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.
Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues
Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.
OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.
It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.
Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.
In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.
It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.
The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?
“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”
Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.
The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.
Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.
With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.
They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.