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Monday, April 28, 2014
Five observations from Hawks-Blues series

By Scott Powers

Corey Crawford
Corey Crawford allowed just six goals in the Blackhawks last four games vs. the Blues.


Here are five observations from the Chicago Blackhawks' first-round series against the St. Louis Blues:

1. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford outplayed Blues goaltender Ryan Miller, and that may have been the difference in the series. These teams were so even that only one shot attempt separated them in 5-on-5 situations with the game tied or within a goal throughout the entire series, according to extraskater.com. The Blackhawks had 235 shot attempts and the Blues had 234. What it came down to was Crawford stepped up. After allowing eight goals in the first two games, Crawford gave up just six over the last four games. He also stopped 126 of 132 shots for a .955 save percentage in the span. Miller gave up 13 goals and stopped 102 of 115 shots for a .887 save percentage in the final four games.

2. Michal Handzus and Niklas Hjalmarsson may deserve co-MVP recognition for the series based on their play on the penalty kill. The Blackhawks have to feel fortunate their 29 minor penalties in the series didn’t come back to haunt them. The Blues scored just twice on 29 power plays, and Handzus and Hjalmarsson had a lot to do with that. Of the Blues’ 52:37 of power-play time in the series, Hjalmarsson was on the ice for 31:40 of it and Handzus had 30:26 of ice time. Both blocked multiple shots and cleared many pucks. Fans began chanting “Zus” during the series whenever Handzus did something positive on the penalty kill.

3. The playoffs are really Bryan Bickell's time of season. Bickell may frustrate fans in that he’s not the same player during the regular season, but he may be worth his paycheck if he plays like this in the playoffs annually. He led the Blackhawks’ forwards with a 56.3 Corsi for percentage (the Blackhawks had 90 shots for and 70 against with him on the ice in 5-on-5 situations) in the series. He produced two goals and one assist. He also provided a physical presence with a league-leading 35 hits in the playoffs.

4. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville is often set in his ways during the regular season, but he’s proven he’s going to do whatever he thinks gives his team the best chance to win in the playoffs. Handzus wasn’t producing on the second line against the Blues, so Quenneville moved him to the fourth line and made Handzus’ focus be more on the penalty kill. He went to a Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane line when he saw fit and then switched it up again when he thought it was time. He gave Ben Smith a larger role as the second-line center. He still likes Brandon Bollig's physical presence, but he’s cut his ice time dramatically whenever he’s wanted to. He diminished veteran Kris Versteeg's role over the series and then scratched him in Game 6 and opted for rookie Joakim Nordstrom.

5. The Blackhawks received contributions from nearly everyone. Their top six forwards combined for 11 goals. Toews was especially rolling with three goals, after having a slow start offensively in the playoffs last season. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa broke through their goal droughts and delivered in the last two games. The bottom six forwards did their part. They combined for 13 points. Brandon Saad's play improved as the series progressed. The defensemen chipped in with six goals. Nick Leddy didn’t score in the series, but his possession numbers were the best on the team. The penalty kill was strong throughout the series, and the power play came through in Game 6 with a key goal.