(Photo: Blackhawks Facebook)
The Chicago Blackhawks turned the State of Hockey into a state of horror as they swept the Minnesota Wild–never giving their opponents a lead–to head on to the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks.
Per Sportsnet, this was the first time since 1992 versus the Detroit Red Wings that Chicago didn’t trail at any point in a playoff series. Home ice prevailed for the Blackhawks’ first two games.
Crawford is 11-3 against the Wild in the last three postseasons. He allowed seven goals in this four-game series, with one shutout.
“Crawford, he’s a star against us,” coach Mike Yeo said. “He’s [Martin] Brodeur. He’s [Patrick] Roy. He’s everybody against us, so we’ve got to find a way to solve that.”
While Crawford only allowed seven goals, the Blackhawks themselves scored 13 in the 4-3, 4-1, 1-0, and 4-3 victories.
Kane himself had five goals, including two game winners, against the Wild. He also tallied one assist on Andrew Shaw‘s power play goal in Game 4.
His highlight reel looks a little like this:
To close the series, Marian Hossa took a pass from Jonathan Toews during a 6-on-4 penalty kill for a shorthanded empty-netter goal that would ultimately be the Blackhawks’ game-winner–with an empty net goal deciding a series for the first time in 24 years (since before Teuvo Teravainen was born.)
The series was hardly as mismatched as it sounds, however, and the two teams will likely remain close rivals in future years as the determined Wild battle toward their ultimate championship goal.
And, in the best of all hockey traditions, it ended with hugs and handshakes.
One casualty in the sweep was Blackhawks defenseman Michal Rozsival, whose skate was caught in a rut in the ice during Game 4 while defending Thomas Vanek. As he tried to continue his play, he twisted his ankle in a gruesome position, causing a vicious break.
(Watch at your own risk.)
Successful surgery Tuesday led doctors to a 12-16 week recovery diagnosis.
Rozsival will be an unrestricted free agent in the summer. He recently told media that he shared with friends how lucky he was to still be playing at 36, let alone with the Blackhawks.
He’d been averaging about 17 minutes of ice time per night–out of the top four. Duncan Keith plays about 30 minutes with Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya all taking the majority of the shifts with at or more than 20 minutes each. Veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen had been playing less than 10 minutes.
David Rundblad will be taking Rozsival’s place.
“I just felt really sorry for Rozsi,” Rundblad told media Sunday. “He’s been playing really good so far. That injury, too, it’s just painful to watch. I just feel bad for him.”
Whether he’ll be able to take the number of shifts Rozsival did is yet to be determined.
“He’s gonna come in and play and minutes are dictated by how he plays and how the score of the game goes,” Coach Joel Quenneville said. “Other guys are accustomed to playing significant minutes. Every game’s gonna be different, but his play and the game and the score will play a lot into it.”
He’s expected to rejoin Keith, his previous defensive pairing this season. Keith commended Rundblad’s puck movement, shot, and noted the players’ chemistry together.
Rundblad had three goals and 11 assists, and was a plus-17, in 49 regular season games with the Blackhawks. He’s known for his offense on as a defenseman, but will be relied on at the blue line.
“Of course, you always want to help the team and play as well as you can,” Rundblad said. “Games are so tight in the playoffs, there’s not much room for mistakes out there. I’ll just try to keep it simple and play as quick as I can.”
Hawks and Ducks–Learning to Fly
In the regular season, the Ducks won once 1-0, while Chicago won twice, 4-1, both at the Honda Center. But the postseason is a whole different different puck-game.
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau told media the Blackhawks are “overall probably the fastest team in the NHL.”
But flattery won’t distract a team that knows it is outsized and outscored by its opponent. Corey Perry leads the playoff in points, followed closely by Kane.
Matt Beleskey had five goals in the series against Calgary, one per game–better than any Hawks could tally.
“They have a great team,” Brandon Saad said. “They have a great forecheck and they’re big and physical, and they play a good puck-possession game. It’s going to be a battle. It’s not going to come easy and we’re going to have to be patient like these past couple series.”
In fact it’s not going to be easy at all. It’s going to be a hard battle. The Ducks lead the Hawks statistically all over the ice this postseason.
They lead in goals with 35. Their goalie Frederik Andersen has a playoff save percentage of .925 and a goals-against average of 1.96 versus Crawford’s 2.06 GAA and .916 save percentage.
Their power play has scored nearly 31 percent of the time versus Chicago’s 20 percent conversion.
But if it’s any consolation, Keith dominates puck control. He’s on the ice for 60 more Blackhawks shots than opposing teams’ shots.
Crawford is coming off a hot series.
And Antoine Vermette leads faceoff wins with 64.6 percent versus Ryan Kesler‘s 63.7 percent.
“We’re dealing with a team that knows how to win in the playoffs, has the experience and talent to back it up,” Boudreau said. “They are arguably the fastest group of forwards, and you add Keith and Oduya and some of those on the back end, and they’re probably the fastest team in the NHL.”
He’s right. The Blackhawks have been pretty decent at closing in the postseason, comparatively. They have won 65 playoff games and two Stanley Cup titles since 2009 while the Ducks have 27 postseason victories in those past six years.
Finally, the last 20 minutes of the games should be interesting.
The Hawks have yet to lose a game in which they led after two periods through the playoffs. It goes back 30 games. And they didn’t trail at all versus Minnesota.
But the Ducks have been winning with comebacks–six out of eight times in the postseason. Four of those were in the third period.
“You watch ’em play, they’ve got a lot of different options they use,” Quenneville told media Monday. “They’re very mobile and they’re strong in all aspects.
“So we need to be our best in all areas ourselves. We feel like if we progress in the playoffs, you’ve got to elevate your game to beat teams that have a lot of confidence and they’ve got to be playing the right way. They’ve got a lot of things going for them.”
- Game 1: 2:00 p.m. CT Sun. May 17 in Anaheim, broadcast on NBC, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 2: 8:00 p.m. CT Tues. May 19 in Anaheim, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 3: 7:00 p.m. CT Thurs. May 21 in Chicago, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 4: 7:00 p.m. CT Sat. May 23 in Chicago, broadcast on NBC, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 5: 8:00 p.m. CT Mon. May 25 in Anaheim, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 6: 7:00 p.m. CT Wed. May 27 in Chicago, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 7: 7:00 p.m. CT Sat. May 30 in Anaheim, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
(As always, click the bold links for video clips or other information. Gifs via Stephanie Vail @myregularface)