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The Chicago Blackhawks were this close to making it to a second consecutive Stanley Cup Final. They were five playoff wins away from repeating as champions. Ultimately, the Los Angeles Kings won one of the best (and wildest) series in ages, leaving a powerful Chicago team asking itself some tough questions.
Let’s look back at the Blackhawks’ 2013-14 season:
- No doubt about it, Corey Crawford’s campaign ended on a sour note. That tends to happen when you allow 25 goals in your last six playoff games, many of which were ugly. Even so, those who can step back and look at the big picture may give Crawford a little more leeway and realize that he’s at least a solid starter. He went 32-16-10 with an acceptable .917 save percentage. He also went on some nice playoff runs, including a six-game winning streak in which he only allowed three goals once and had a shutout (from Game 3 against ST. Louis to Game 2 against Minnesota).
- That being said, GM Stan Bowman needs to figure out a backup solution in case Crawford struggles in another playoff series. It seemed clear that Chicago had zero interest in turning to Antti Raanta even during Crawford’s darkest moments.
- While the goaltending situation might leave some feeling a little sour, the overall picture of this Blackhawks team is still very bright.
- For one thing, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews continue to distinguish themselves as elite performers. Both seemed to take turns dominating spans of this postseason and regular season. Bowman can lock up each player long-term, as their contracts will expire after the 2014-15 campaign.
- Duncan Keith enjoyed the best (or second-best) season of his career, generating 61 points in a dominant year.
- The knock on Chicago’s depth is that they struggled at the second center position. That’s true, but many believe that Teuvo Teräväinen has a chance to solve that riddle.
- If nothing else, other young players showed promise, including Brandon Saad. Saad formed a dangerous combination with Kane and Andrew Shaw late in the Western Conference finals and could be another difference-maker, especially if the likes of Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp begin to decline.
It’s foolish to be excessively negative about Chicago after the Blackhawks fell one game short of the Stanley Cup Final, yet the organization will likely try to find a way to be even better next season. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.