Chicago Blackhawks: Corey Crawford

Hawks need goalie depth in free agency

July, 1, 2014
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Offseason trade and free-agent rumors surrounding second-line centers are certainly more interesting than second-tier goaltenders, but acquiring the latter could also be important to the Chicago Blackhawks come next season.

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
Bill Smith/NHLI/Getty ImagesThe Hawks are set with Corey Crawford as their No. 1 goalie and Antti Raanta as his backup, but beyond them there isn't much depth in their system.
The Blackhawks have their No. 1 goaltender in place in Corey Crawford and now their No. 2 after recently re-signing Antti Raanta. Beyond that, the organization is bare of NHL-ready goaltenders. Kent Simpson is the only other signed goaltender who has NHL experience, and he's played a total of 20 minutes.

The Blackhawks are hopeful they won't need anyone beside Crawford and Raanta next season, but that's unlikely. Only three teams -- the New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks -- got away with playing just two goaltenders all of last season. The Minnesota Wild and Florida Panthers each threw five different goaltenders in net during the regular season.

The Blackhawks have dealt with the reality of injuries at that position in the past two seasons. Nikolai Khabibulin played a total of four games last season before he was sidelined for the rest of the season. Crawford has missed games in each of the last two seasons due to injury. Henrik Karlsson was Crawford's backup in the first round of the playoffs in 2013 because Ray Emery was hurt.

Because the Blackhawks have their top-2 goaltenders set and likely will be tight with the cap, they're going to need to find someone who they can sign cheap on a two-way deal during free agency, which begins on Tuesday. That eliminates the likes of veterans Martin Brodeur and Tim Thomas. They're more likely to pursue goalies such as Mike McKenna, Drew MacIntyre, Joey MacDonald, Cedrick Desjardins and Yann Danis.

The Blackhawks were in an adequate spot with goaltenders in 2013. They had Karlsson and Carter Hutton on the depth chart after Crawford and Emery. But Hutton left the Blackhawks and started 35 games for the Nashville Predators this past season. Karlsson went overseas to play.

Khabibulin's season-ending injury this past season forced the Blackhawks to trade for Jason LaBarbera, who had some NHL experience and could be used in an emergency situation. LaBarbera is another option for the Blackhawks next season. He had a 2.94 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in 32 games for the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs.

The Blackhawks would ideally have a prospect ready to make the NHL jump if needed, but their system doesn't have that player right now. The 22-year-old Simpson, a second-round pick in 2010, has been in the minors for the past two seasons and still needs time to develop. He had a 3.64 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 31 games for the IceHogs last season. Mac Carruth, a seventh-round pick in 2010, spent most of last season in the ECHL.

"I thought Kent learned a lot of things this year," Blackhawks director of hockey administration and general manager of minor league affiliations Mark Bernard said recently. "We weren't always the best defensively in front of him. That's not easy on a goaltender. I think he really learned when Jason LaBarbera came in. That was kind of a protégé system. Kent's learning. He's getting better. I don't think he's at his ceiling.

"Kent played his first year in Toledo, and Mac did it this year. It's a grind the first year. We're not looking at [Carruth's] numbers, but if he's giving his team a chance to win a nightly basis."

The only other goaltenders in the Blackhawks' system are Matt Tomkins, a seventh-round pick in 2012, who will be a sophomore at Ohio State next season, and Ivan Nalimov, who they selected in the sixth round on Saturday. The Blackhawks opted this year not to sign Brandon Whitney, a seventh-round pick in 2012, who played in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this past season.

The Blackhawks haven't had much luck drafting goaltenders in the past decade. Crawford and Simpson are the only Blackhawks' draft picks to appear in an NHL game since Crawford was drafted in 2003. The Blackhawks have drafted 11 goaltenders since 2003.

Blackhawks assistant general manager Norm Maciver talked earlier this year about the difficulty of drafting and developing goaltenders.

"We're certainly trying to develop goaltenders," Maciver said in March. "To draft a kid at 18, it's a very difficult position. Look at Crawford, he had five full years in the American League. It's not something that happens overnight. It's very difficult to draft goaltenders and hope for them to develop in 1-2 years. Most goaltenders in the NHL are past 25 years old. You have to be patient. Hopefully one of these guys becomes a good goaltender for us in the near future."

For now, the Blackhawks likely will have to find another one somewhere outside the organization.

Hawks player reviews: Corey Crawford

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
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Corey Crawford Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty ImagesCorey Crawford was dominant at times in the playoffs for the Blackhawks.

Corey Crawford, Goaltender


2013-14 cap hit: $2,666,667 | Age: 29 | Season stats: 32-16-10, 2.26 GAA, .917 save percentage

Season recap: Crawford's play was all over the map at times this season, ranging from mediocre to great. He struggled early in the season prior to being injured in December. He returned in January playing at a higher level. He took his game up another notch in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but wasn't the same player in the Western Conference finals.

Season highlight: Crawford had a number of memorable performances in the playoffs, but he was at his best against the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of the first round. The Blackhawks were down 2-0 in the series, and the Blues outplayed the Blackhawks at times in Game 3. Crawford came through and stopped all 34 shots he faced in a 2-0 win.

Season lowlight: There weren't a lot of soft goals, but Crawford allowed 25 goals over the final six games of the Western Conference finals. He allowed four or more goals in five games in the series.

Final grade: B-

Inside the numbers: Crawford had a .925 even-strength save percentage during the regular season. He was ranked 19th in that category among goaltenders with at least 25 starts this season.

Notes: Crawford recorded his 100th career win on Nov. 29. He became the eighth Blackhawks goaltender to reach the 100-win mark.

Quotes: "It wasn't good enough," Crawford said of his play in the Western Conference finals. "We lost. It was too many goals. Take away the Game 2, that was a blowout in the third period. That couldn't happen, but it did. They seemed to get a lot of traffic in front of the net. I felt pretty much all year I felt I was pretty strong ... battling through traffic and finding pucks and that was probably the worst part of my game in that series."

What's next: Crawford will be the Blackhawks' No. 1 goalie for many years. His six-year, $36 million contract goes into effect next season. The Blackhawks will look for more consistency out of him.

Five reasons Hawks didn't defend Cup

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
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The Chicago Blackhawks' quest to repeat at Stanley Cup champions came to a halt on Sunday as they fell to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Here are five reasons the Blackhawks landed short of winning another Stanley Cup:

1. Blackhawks general manger Stan Bowman's decision to keep most of last season's Cup-winning team together didn't work: Nineteen players returned from the Stanley Cup roster, and the thought was the same group could win another Cup together. That didn't play out as they hoped.

[+] EnlargeMichal Handzus
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMichal Handzus was a minus-8 and had just three points in the playoffs.
Bowman re-signed veterans Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus after they contributed to the Cup run, and they weren't the same players this season, especially in the playoffs. Rozsival was solid throughout the playoffs last season. He was a plus-9 and had a 57.4 Corsi percentage (shot differential) in 23 playoff games. In the playoffs this season, Rozsival was a minus-1 and had a 52.9 Corsi percentage. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville saw enough of Rozsival's struggles in the second round that Rozsival was a healthy scratch for two games.

Handzus' drop in play was more significant. He had 11 points, was a plus-7 and provided a stable second-line center in the playoffs last season. He couldn't replicate that performance this time around. He had three points, was a minus-8 and was the team's fourth-line center by the end of the playoffs. He had a 48.7 Corsi percentage in the playoffs last season and dropped to 36.3 this season.

Bowman traded away Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik and didn't resign Viktor Stalberg in the offseason. Bowman said he wanted to make room for some of the organization's prospects. Players such as Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri and Ben Smith were all expected to contribute. Smith was the only one who stuck in the lineup. Morin and Pirri showed their upside during stretches this season, but Quenneville wasn't convinced overall and went with his veterans. Hayes and Pirri were traded during the season, and Morin was a healthy scratch for a majority of the playoffs.

Losing Bolland and Frolik wasn't much of a factor in the regular season. A fourth line of Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger and Smith was fine throughout the season. The Blackhawks' penalty kill also figured out how to succeed without Frolik. But in the playoffs, the absences of Bolland and Frolik were noticeable. The Blackhawks weren't as deep of a team, and Quenneville became heavily reliant on three lines. Stalberg was in Quenneville's doghouse last season, but he still played at least seven minutes a game throughout the playoffs. In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals last season, every forward except for Stalberg played 10-plus minutes of even-strength ice time.

By comparison, Handzus, Bollig and Kris Versteeg, the team's fourth line on Sunday, all played fewer than seven minutes of even-strength ice time. Handzus played 6:52, Versteeg 3:34 and Bollig 2:28. It wasn't like that for just one game, either. Bollig averaged 6:24 in 15 playoff games and played as little as 1:50 in one game. Versteeg played a total of three shifts after the second period in the last two overtime games. Handzus' even-strength ice time was diminished throughout the playoffs. Morin and Joakim Nordstrom played less than seven minutes in five of their combined nine playoff games.

2. The Blackhawks didn't add any pieces during the season that paid off in the playoffs: Handzus was that piece last season. This season Bowman considered re-acquiring Versteeg as the Blackhawks' major in-season move in November. Versteeg was part of the Blackhawks' 2010 Stanley Cup team, and they saw him as a versatile forward who could fill their third-line wing spot and provide consistent offense.

Versteeg didn't live up to those expectations. His play fluctuated during the regular season, and he had 10 goals and 19 assists in 63 games for the Blackhawks. He began the playoffs on the Blackhawks' top line, but he ended it barely playing, finishing with one goal, two assists and was a minus-5 in 15 playoff games. He was also among the team's worst possession plays and had a 41.7 Corsi percentage. He could remember being a healthy scratch just once prior to the playoffs this season, and it happened to him three times by Quenneville in the playoffs. Versteeg has said he came back too soon from a knee injury, which happened last season, so the Blackhawks have to hope a full offseason will do him and his knee good for next season.

Peter Regin, acquired from the New York Islanders in February, formed one of the team's better lines with Bryan Bickell and Morin, but Quenneville didn't stick with it entering the playoffs. Regin played in five playoff games.

3. The Blackhawks began and ended another season with questions about their second-line center: Handzus gave them enough in the playoffs last season, but his play didn't hold up over the course of this season. More importantly, he wasn't much help to Patrick Kane, who scored one goal in 5-on-5 situations with Handzus in the regular season, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. They were together for 310:16. Kane had 16 goals while with other teammates in 5-on-5 situations.

[+] EnlargeTeuvo Teravainen
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesIs Teuvo Teravainen the answer at second-line center for the Hawks next season?
Pirri was expected to start the season as the second-line center, but an injury during training camp derailed that. Quenneville used Pirri there later in the season, but it didn't last. Andrew Shaw, Regin, Kruger and Smith also saw time at second-line center. Brandon Saad was even given a crack at it in training camp. Quenneville remarked how much he liked Shaw alongside Saad and Kane during the Kings' series. Shaw could be valued too much as the team's consistent third-line center and his career 43.9 faceoff percentage may be reason to believe he won't stay there.

Teuvo Teravainen could be the solution. He's the organization's top prospect, and his offensive ability would be ideal for Kane. Inexperience is a concern with the 19-year-old Teravainen as is his size (5-foot-11, 169 pounds).

4. The Blackhawks weren't as consistent defensively and in the net during the playoffs: The Blackhawks allowed an average of 2.02 goals against in 23 playoff games last season. They gave up 2.90 goals against this season.

The Blackhawks' possession numbers were also down from last season. Their Corsi close percentages (shot differential with the game tied or within a goal in 5-on-5 situations) last season were 56.8 against the Minnesota Wild in the first round, 54.6 against the Detroit Red Wings in the second round, 51.2 against the Kings in the Western Conference finals and 57.0 against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, according to extraskater.com.

Their percentages in the playoffs this season were 50.1 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, 49.7 against the Wild in the second round and 47.8 against the Kings in the Western Conference finals. The Blackhawks just weren't the same puck-possession team.

No one pointed the finger at Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford for his play against the Kings, but he wasn't the same goaltender who led them to six consecutive series victories. He had a few off games before, but they never stacked up, and he always bounced back. He allowed four or more goals in 5-of-37 playoff games prior to facing the Kings. He gave up four or more goals in five of seven games against the Kings and allowed 26 goals and saved 187 of 213 shots for an .878 save percentage. He had allowed 26 goals and had a .931 save percentage through two series this season. He had a 1.84 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage in the playoffs last season.

5. The Blackhawks may never admit it, but they may have been tired and beaten down in the end: The Blackhawks clinched the Stanley Cup on June 24, 2013, and then had a summer of Cup celebrations. They were back on the ice in early September for training camp, returned to an 82-game regular-season schedule, had 10 players participate in the Olympics and were again making another late playoff run. That's a lot of hockey, and they seemed unable to put together complete-game efforts as consistently as they did last season. They also went through grueling series with the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild before taking on the Kings.

Rapid Reaction: Kings 5, Blackhawks 4 (OT)

June, 1, 2014
Jun 1
10:26
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CHICAGO -- Here’s a quick look at the Los Angeles Kings’ 5-4 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals at the United Center on Sunday:

How it happened: Game 7 didn’t disappoint. After six wildly entertaining games, the Blackhawks and Kings put together another memorable one in Game 7. The series was put to bed when Alec Martinez scored the game-winning goal at 5:47 of overtime. The beginning and middle of the game were nearly as dramatic. The Blackhawks got their home crowd roaring with goals by Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews in the game’s first 8:36. It would take more than that to put the Kings away. They responded with goals by Jeff Carter and Justin Williams to tie it. Twelve seconds after Williams’ goal, Patrick Sharp put Chicago back ahead. The teams combined for five first-period goals. The Kings answered again with a Tyler Toffoli goal to tie it at 10:31 of the second period. The Blackhawks regained the lead when Sharp blasted in a power-play goal at 18:25 of the second period. The Kings fought back one more time. Marian Gaborik tied the game at 4-4 at 12:43 of the third period. The Blackhawks were 2-of-5 on the power play, the Kings were 0-for-2. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford had 27 saves on 32 shots. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 37 of 41.

What it means: The Kings clinched the series and advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the second time in three seasons. L.A. became the first team in Stanley Cup playoffs history to take three consecutive series by winning a Game 7 on the road. The Blackhawks failed in their attempt to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The Detroit Red Wings are the last team to accomplish the feat (1996 and 1997). The Kings improved to 7-0 in elimination games in the playoffs this season. The Blackhawks-Kings series was not short of goals. The teams combined for 51 goals over the seven games. Chicago forward Patrick Kane’s two assists in the loss gave him nine points over the past three games. Williams’ goal gave him seven goals in seven career Game 7s.

Player of the game: Gaborik continued to be a difference-maker for the Kings. He scored his third goal of the series and 12th of the playoffs.

Stat of the game: The Kings trailed three different times in the game.

What’s next: The Kings move on to play the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup finals. Game 1 will be in Los Angeles on Wednesday. The Blackhawks’ season is over.

Hawks battle back again to even series

May, 31, 2014
May 31
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LOS ANGELES -- The Chicago Blackhawks just won’t go away.

The Los Angeles Kings have tried their best in two consecutive games to put an end to the Blackhawks once and for all. Twice the Kings held third-period leads on the Blackhawks, and twice the Blackhawks overcame them and fought back to win. And with that, the Kings’ 3-1 series lead is no more, and the series will be decided back in Chicago.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews took a moment after his team’s 4-3 victory in Game 6 on Friday to admire what the Blackhawks have had to do to get back into the series.

“I think we know what kind of character we have in this room, what kind of group,” Toews said of the defending Stanley Cup champions. “I think we’re showing it to each other now. It’s pretty amazing to see. We know our job’s not done yet.”

The Blackhawks have gotten to where they are now by handling a large amount of adversity tossed their way in the past two games.

In Game 5, it was the Kings rallying from a two-goal deficit to take a 4-3 lead. The Blackhawks were down a goal to begin the third period, and Ben Smith scored within the first two minutes to tie the game. After a chaotic overtime, the Blackhawks pulled out a winner in the second extra period.

[+] EnlargeBen Smith, Marian Gaborik, Anze Kopitar
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonBen Smith's second goal in two games gave the Hawks a lead at the second intermission.
In Game 6, the drama continued. The Kings went up 1-0 in the first period. The Blackhawks responded and took a 2-1 lead after two. The Kings answered by scoring two goals in just over two minutes to go ahead 3-2 less than eight minutes into the third.

Panic from the Blackhawks’ fan base could be read all over Twitter, but the players themselves resisted that feeling.

“You've just got to find a way to kind of ride those highs and keep that momentum and when things go against you -- I’ve said this quite a few times -- you forget about those tough moments and just don’t let it affect you too much,” Toews said. “Go out that next shift and keep playing.”

That they did. Duncan Keith took a pass from Patrick Kane in the deep slot and tied the game 3-3. Kane played the role of hero again by scoring the winner with 3 minutes, 45 seconds remaining. Between and after those goals, Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford and his defense held strong to force Game 7 on Sunday night at the United Center.

“That’s the way the team has been all year,” Crawford said. “We don’t give up. We can definitely score goals. I don’t think anyone lost confidence or got down after those two goals they scored in the third. If anything, we kept pressing harder.”

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville never doubted his team’s resilience, but he was still impressed by it.

“Three lead changes in the third period, in a big game like that, it's pretty amazing,” Quenneville said. “But our guys, finding a way, it's a compliment to them. Well, top players. I mean, they want to win. They find ways. They challenge one another. You see certain guys competing like that every shift. I mean, you can't help but follow along and make your contribution.”

W2W4: Blackhawks vs. Kings (Game 6)

May, 30, 2014
May 30
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LOS ANGELES -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings face off Friday in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, with the Kings leading the series 3-2. Here's what to watch for:

• After pulling out a 5-4 double-overtime win in Game 5, the Blackhawks have to win again to keep their season alive. They haven't won in Los Angeles in the series.

*• The Kings haven’t lost in a Game 6 or 7 this season. They defeated the San Jose Sharks in Games 6 and 7 in the opening round and defeated the Anaheim Ducks in Games 6 and 7 in the second round.

• The Blackhawks have been unbeatable in Games 5-7 in playoff series over the last two seasons. They’re 12-0 in those situations, including 5-0 this season.

• The Blackhawks will be looking for goaltender Corey Crawford to pick up where he left off in Game 5. After allowing four goals on 20 shots, Crawford held the Kings goal-less on their last 24 shots.

• Special teams has been a factor in every game. The Blackhawks held the advantage in that area in Game 5. They scored a power-play goal and shut out the Kings on three power plays. For the series, the Blackhawks are 3-of-17 on the power play and the Kings are 5-of-15.

• The Blackhawks’ second line of Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Patrick Kane was dominant in Game 5. Saad had one goal and two assists, Shaw had two assists, and Kane has four assists. The Kings’ line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson has given the Blackhawks fits throughout the series.

• Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville wouldn’t reveal any lineup changes, but forward Kris Versteeg could sit out again. Versteeg didn’t play the final 50-plus minutes of Game 5 after being on the ice for a goal in the second period.

• Kings forward Marian Gaborik has scored in the last two games after being shut out in the first three games. He leads the NHL with 11 playoff goals this postseason. Teammate Anze Kopitar leads the league with 23 playoff points and has four points in this series.

• Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick's numbers have varied dramatically in wins and losses in the playoffs. He has made 314 saves on 332 shots for a .946 save percentage in 11 playoff wins. He has made 197 saves on 229 shots for .860 save percentage in eight losses.

Blackhawks look to Crawford again

May, 27, 2014
May 27
7:49
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CHICAGO -- Goaltender Corey Crawford has saved the day for the Chicago Blackhawks before.

Crawford allowed just five goals on 91 shots for a .945 save percentage in the final three games against the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals last season to help the Blackhawks overcome a 3-1 series deficit. He stopped 51 of 54 shots in a three-overtime win over the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals last season. He denied the St. Louis Blues on all 34 of their shots in Game 3 of the first round this postseason after the Blues had a 2-0 series lead.

[+] Enlarge Blackhawks
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsCorey Crawford has allowed 13 goals and had a .842 save percentage in the team's past three losses.
There are many games that could fit that list in the past two seasons.

On Wednesday, the Blackhawks will look for Crawford to have a similar performance. Chicago faces elimination Wednesday as the Los Angeles Kings hold a 3-1 series advantage in the Western Conference finals.

“I think we’re going to need him to be really good, and we need that tomorrow night,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said on Tuesday.

Quenneville described Crawford as “all right” during the series so far.

Crawford began the series strong by making 25 saves on 26 shots in a 3-1 Game 1 victory. From there, it’s gone downhill for him and the Blackhawks. They have been outscored 15-7 in three consecutive losses, and Crawford has allowed 13 goals and had a .842 save percentage during the span.

Crawford has been a different goalie in Chicago's wins and losses in the playoffs this season. He has a .869 save percentage (185-of-213) in the Blackhawks' seven playoff losses this season. He's made 260 saves on 272 shots for a .956 save percentage in their nine wins.

Quenneville didn’t point the finger at Crawford when asked about his play prior to Game 4.

“He's been excellent for us all playoffs,” Quenneville said. “They have some guys that we saw even in the first game that can make plays. They've got some finish. I think that's the difference in probably the first two rounds. Now they got two lines that are very dangerous offensively. They got a back end that's pretty active. I think it's a good hockey team out there, so let's make sure that the quality and the quantity we cut back.”

That, and having Crawford step up again will be the game plan again on Wednesday.

Rapid Reaction: Kings 4, Blackhawks 3

May, 24, 2014
May 24
9:56
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LOS ANGELES -- Here’s a quick look at the Los Angeles Kings’ 4-3 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center on Saturday.

How it happened: The Kings rallied from another deficit to defeat the Blackhawks. Down 2-1, the Kings fought back and scored two goals in the second period to take the lead. Jeff Carter netted the equalizer off a pass from Tanner Pearson at 8 minutes, 8 seconds; Tyler Toffoli then put the Kings ahead when he skated past two Blackhawks defensemen for a loose puck and scored on a breakaway at 14:19. Drew Doughty extended the lead to 4-2 in the third period. Jonathan Toews accounted for the Blackhawks' first two scores. He stole the puck on a Kings power play and bagged a short-handed goal at 5:26 of the first period to give Chicago a 1-0 lead. After Slava Voynov scored a power-play goal for Los Angeles, Toews put the Blackhawks back in front when he knocked in a rebound at 13:19 of the first. The Blackhawks cut the Kings’ lead to one late with a goal by Patrick Sharp with 4.2 seconds remaining in the third period. Los Angeles goaltender Jonathan Quick made 24 saves on 27 shots. Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford stopped 28 of 32 shots. The Kings were 1-for-3 on the power play, and the Blackhawks were 0-for-4.

What it means: The Kings took a 2-1 lead in the series and continued to hold home-ice advantage. The Blackhawks dropped the road opener of a series for the 10th consecutive time, a streak dating back to 2010. The Kings improved to 4-3 at home in the playoffs this season. Los Angeles was able to capitalize on its power play for the second consecutive game. The Kings scored two power-play goals in Game 2 and another in Game 3. The Blackhawks had allowed a total of four power-play goals in the playoffs prior to Game 2. L.A. held Chicago without a power-play goal for the first time in the series.

Player of the game: Carter scored a goal and had two assists in the win. He has four goals and three assists over the past two games and eight points in the series.

Stat of the game: The Kings outshot the Blackhawks 18-7 in the third period.

What’s next: The series remains in Los Angeles for Game 4 on Monday.

W2W4: Blackhawks vs. Kings (Game 3)

May, 24, 2014
May 24
12:23
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LOS ANGELES -- The Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings face off in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals at the Staples Center on Saturday. The series is tied 1-1. Here's what to watch for:

* The Kings stole home-ice advantage away from the Blackhawks by rallying from a 2-0 deficit and scoring six unanswered goals in Game 2 in Chicago on Wednesday. The Kings are 3-3 in their own building in the playoffs this season.

* Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw is expected to play after missing the last seven games with a lower-body injury. He’ll likely replace Peter Regin as the third-line center.

* Kings forward Jeff Carter is coming off a hat trick and four points in Game 2. He has two career playoff hat tricks.

* The Blackhawks allowed a total of two power-play goals in each of their first two series. The Kings scored two power-play goals in Game 2. The Kings made the Blackhawks pay for consecutive penalties in the first six minutes of the third period Wednesday.

(Read full post)

Not buying Bollig took a dive for a penalty

May, 20, 2014
May 20
11:48
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Here are some thoughts about the Chicago Blackhawks-Los Angeles Kings' Western Conference finals series after Game 1 and heading into Game 2:

Bollig
1. Not buying that Brandon Bollig took a dive for the penalty in Game 1. No, it wasn't a mighty push by the Kings' Alec Martinez which resulted in Bollig crashing to the ice around the net after the whistle in the first period. I went back and reviewed the incident a few dozen times, and I came to the conclusion Bollig was simply caught off-guard by it. Aside from the visual evidence of that, Bollig isn't the type of player who wants to be knocked to the ground by an opponent. He prides himself on being a tough guy and being dropped like that would be deemed being weak. I also don't see him as a diver. It's nothing he's done in the past. It was also a bit dangerous falling like that with so many players around the net. He nearly took teammate Marcus Kruger's knee out on his way down.

Having written all that, it's understandable why the Kings were upset with Bollig and the penalty. It was a soft push, and there were plenty of after-whistle scrums throughout the game, and no other one drew a roughing penalty. The penalty cost the Kings on the Blackhawks' power play. The devilish grin which appeared on Bollig's face after he hit the ice and the penalty was called certainly angered the Kings as well. I'm sure over the remaining games there will be plenty of vocal and physical interaction between Bollig and the Kings.

2. Corey Crawford deserves all the respect he's given now, but he wasn't being disrespected in the regular season. Locally and nationally, a lot is being written about Crawford's stellar play right now. Within the ESPN house, I wrote on Crawford just last week, and Scott Burnside wrote about him after Game 1 against the Kings. There are plenty of others writing about him as well. Like the playoffs last season, Crawford is one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks have advanced to where they are in the playoffs. He has a 1.90 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the playoffs this season. In the Blackhawks' nine playoff wins, he's stopped 260-of-272 shots for a .956 save percentage. He's been nearly impenetrable. It's been impressive and coupled with last season should really silence his remaining critics for many years (but probably won't).

But for all the attention Crawford is receiving now, it wasn't as if he was being overlooked in the regular season. The reason why he wasn't receiving a high volume of publicity, at least nationally, was because his play wasn't at this same level. His .917 save percentage tied him for 20th in the league in the regular season. He especially struggled over the season's first 2 1/2 months until he got hurt. He had a .907 save percentage after 27 games. He came back a different goalie from his injury in January. He had a .924 save percentage over his final 32 games. Now if he had a .924 save percentage for the whole season, he would have been tied for seventh. Crawford has proven twice now to be an elite goaltender in the playoffs, just not in the regular-season yet. That could be his next progression.

3. Some quick observations after watching Game 1 again:

Patrick Kane and Marian Gaborik are going to score multiple goals in this series if they continue to get the chances they did in the first game.

• Flipping Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad on lines in the second period worked at the time for the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith's goal was on a pass from Saad shortly after the switch. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville stuck with it during line rushes at practice on Tuesday.

• The Blackhawks defensemen were caught in the neutral zone a handful of times and nearly cost them multiple goals. The Kings' one goal was partly due to Michal Rozsival getting stuck in the natural zone (plus, there was a bad line change). Keith and Nick Leddy did the same thing, but the Kings didn't score. Leddy was fortunate Tyler Toffoli wasn't able to score on his breakaway after beating Crawford. Leddy played just 2:12 of even-strength ice time in the third period, and Rozsival played 2:31.

• The fourth line held its own, and that's a good sign for the Blackhawks. That line of Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith wasn't a fluke in the regular season and keeping it together does benefit the Blackhawks across all four lines. The line was outshot by the Kings in Game 1, but it didn't have a single offensive zone start and was close to 50 percent Corsi.

• The Blackhawks held an advantage in special teams again. For the fifth time in the playoffs, they scored a power-play goal and had a perfect penalty kill. That's big. The penalty kill has been coming up all playoffs. It's 91.7 kill percentage is actually higher so far than last playoffs' 90.8 percentage.

Rapid Reaction: Blackhawks 3, Kings 1

May, 18, 2014
May 18
5:05
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks' 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at the United Center on Sunday.

How it happened: Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith broke a 1-1 tie when his slap shot from near the blue line was deflected and bounced high into the net at 11:54 of the second period. The Blackhawks held a one-goal advantage until Jonathan Toews gave them a 3-1 lead at 16:10 of the third period. The Kings had tied the game 1-1 early in the second period when Tanner Pearson connected with Tyler Toffoli in front of the net for a goal at 4:35. The goal came 1:13 after the Blackhawks had a goal disallowed following a review. Brandon Saad scored Chicago's first goal when he deflected a shot by Nick Leddy into the net on a power play at 14:46 of the first period. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made 25 saves on 26 shots. Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped 17 of 20 shots. The Blackhawks were 1-for-2 on the power play, while the Kings were 0-for-2.

What it means: The Blackhawks took a 1-0 lead in the series. They remained perfect at home in the playoffs, improving to 7-0 at the United Center. Possession favored the Kings in the final two periods. Crawford had a few highlight saves to help counter the Kings’ shot advantage. The Blackhawks were also fortunate Toffoli didn’t score when he had a breakaway and beat Crawford in the third period. Toffoli’s backhanded shot hit the post.

Player of the game: Crawford stepped up again. He held the Kings to one goal. He has held opponents to two goals or less in eight playoff games this season.

Stat of the game: Crawford stopped 16 of 17 shots in the second period.

What’s next: The series will take two days off before resuming for Game 2 in Chicago on Wednesday.

What you need to know: Los Angeles Kings

May, 17, 2014
May 17
10:46
AM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Blackhawks will play the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals. Here’s what you need to know about the Kings:

• The Blackhawks eliminated the Kings in five games in the Western Conference finals last season. Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored a hat trick, including the double-overtime game winner, in the final game of the series. He had four goals in the series, and Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell had three goals and four assists in the series. Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford made 127 saves on 137 shots for a .927 save percentage in the series.


• The Kings have been without defensemen Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell the past few weeks. Mitchell hasn’t played the last eight games, and Regehr missed the last six games. Mitchell has started skating again, but Regehr has not.

• The Kings were the league’s best defensive team in the regular season. They had league-best 2.05 goals-against average. They also allowed only 108 even-strength goals, which was the lowest in the league.

• Offense has often been harder for the Kings to come by. They averaged 2.42 goals a game, which ranked 26th in the league, during the regular season. They were held to two goals or less in 41 regular-season games. They have found some more offense in the playoffs, averaging 3.21 goals a game, and have scored three or more goals in 10 of 14 games.

• The Blackhawks won all three of their regular-season meetings this season.

[+] EnlargeKane
AP Photo/Reed SaxonPatrick Kane and the Blackhawks won all three matchups against the Kings in the regular season.
• The Kings are 6-0 when facing elimination in the playoffs this season. They rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat the San Jose Sharks and from a 3-2 deficit to eliminate the Anaheim Ducks in the second round.

• The Kings are 3-3 at home and 5-3 on the road in the playoffs this season. The Blackhawks are 6-0 at home and 2-4 on the road.

• Despite their lack of offense, the Kings were one of the league’s top possession teams. They led the NHL with a 57.3 Corsi percentage, which is shot differential with the game tied or within a goal. The Kings had 2,480 shots for and 1,850 shots against in those situations, according to extraskater.com. The Blackhawks ranked second in that category with a 55.7 percentage.

• Kings defenseman Drew Doughty leads the team in ice time. He averaged 25:42 in the regular season and is averaging 27:24 in the playoffs.

• Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick had one of the league’s best goals-against averages at 2.07, but his save percentage of .915 put him tied for 22nd in the league. He did have a .929 even-strength save percentage. He has a 2.72 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in 14 playoff games this season. He struggled against the Blackhawks in the playoffs last season. He stopped 122-of-136 shots for a .897 save percentage. He was pulled in the second period of Game 2 in the series after allowing four goals.

• Forward Anze Kopitar led the Kings with 70 points in the regular season. He had 29 goals, 41 assists and was a plus-34. He leads the NHL with 19 playoff points, which includes five goals and 14 assists.

• Forward Marian Gaborik leads the Kings with nine playoff goals. He has 15 points in the playoffs. The Kings acquired him from the Columbus Blues Jackets on March 5.

• The Kings were 11th in the league with an 83.1 penalty-kill percentage in the regular season. They have killed off 49-of-56 penalties for a 83.9 percentage in the playoffs.

• The Kings were 27th in the league with a 15.1 power-play percentage in the regular season. They have scored 11 goals on 48 power plays for a 22.9 percentage in the playoffs.

• The Kings placed three players in the league’s top-25 faceoff leaders in the regular season. Jarrett Stoll won 678-of-1239 faceoffs for a 54.7 winning percentage, Mike Richards followed at 53.9 percent (489-of-907) and next was Kopitar at 53.3 (773-of-1451).

(Read full post)

Crawford giving Hawks a shot to repeat

May, 16, 2014
May 16
4:03
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
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CHICAGO -- Corey Crawford wasn't a proven winner the last time the Chicago Blackhawks had a chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Crawford was in his first full season as the team's starting goaltender when the Blackhawks attempted to repeat as champions in 2011. He wasn't the main reason why the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round then, but he also wasn't a difference-maker when his teammates needed him to be.

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhCorey Crawford has a 1.97 goals-against average and .931 save percentage through 12 games and two playoff series.
Now as the Blackhawks take another run at repeating as champions this season, Crawford is no longer an unknown variable. The Blackhawks know exactly what they have in him. He's a Stanley Cup-winning goaltender who has continued to verify this season that he can be relied upon to step up in the playoffs.

"I think the one thing [before was] the scrutiny for Corey," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said Friday. "[He hadn't] done it before. ... Here we are, the difference is we got a proven goalie that has won a Cup."

Plenty of people doubted whether the Blackhawks could win a Stanley Cup with Crawford in net prior to last season. He showed them otherwise by playing consistently, and often times at an elite level, while the Blackhawks went on to win the Stanley Cup last season. He had a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in 23 playoff games.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman saw all he needed to believe Crawford could lead the Blackhawks to even more Stanley Cups. Bowman offered Crawford a six-year contract extension, which he signed in September 2013, making him part of the Blackhawks' core group through the 2019-20 season.

Crawford hasn't disappointed since. Through two playoff series this season, he's continued to play at a high level and given the Blackhawks a chance to win in most games.

(Read full post)

Crawford silences Wild in the end

May, 14, 2014
May 14
12:54
AM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild’s fans started in on Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford within seconds of the first puck being dropped in Game 6 of their second-round series on Tuesday.

Over and over again, the fans chanted, “Craw-ford, Craw-ford, Craw-ford.” They especially gave it to him after he allowed a second-period goal.

The fans filled the building with sound of Crawford’s name in spurts throughout all of regulation and in overtime on Tuesday. All the while, Crawford was enjoying every moment of it.

[+] EnlargeChicago Blackhawks celebrate
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThe fans tried to psych out the Blackhawks, but Chicago came out on top.
“Yeah, I could hear it,” Crawford said with a smile. “It’s fun. It’s a fun part of hockey -- trying to get in my head. I’ve heard it before, probably won’t be the last time either. I enjoyed it. It was fun. That’s part of it, that’s playoff hockey. I’d rather it be like that than dead quiet.”

Crawford’s favorite moment came in the end, though.

After he had made his 34th save on the Wild’s 35th shot and Patrick Kane delivered a goal at the other end to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 overtime win and the series, the Wild’s fans were mum.

“It was pretty exciting tonight, throughout this whole series in this building.” Crawford said. “It was kind of nice to win it in front of them tonight.”

If it hadn’t been for Crawford, the Wild easily would have been celebrating a series-tying win on Tuesday. He emerged when the Blackhawks needed him to just as he has a number of times in the playoffs the past two seasons.

The Wild especially put Crawford to the test in the second period. The Wild dominated possession and placed 14 shots on Crawford in the 20 minutes. They got just one past him.

Crawford’s most notable saves came on point-blank chances by the Wild. Justin Fontaine had a breakaway attempt midway through the period, and Crawford stuffed him on the initial shot and then on the rebound. Late in the period, Crawford denied Fontaine again on two consecutive shots from within a few feet.

Crawford’s teammates couldn’t say enough about him afterward. In the Blackhawks’ four wins in the series, he made 114 saves on 119 shots for a .958 save percentage.

“He was big,” Kane said. “Seems to be a trend in this building, kind of in the second period, that they outplay us. I’m sure he wasn’t happiest with us with how we were playing in front of him. But he did what he does. He’s a great goaltender, and we feel he’s the best in the league for that reason.”

After allowing Erik Haula a breakaway goal at 2:29 of the second period, Crawford stopped the last 24 shots he faced in the game. He made seven saves in the third period and five more in overtime.

“Tonight, give Corey a ton of credit for keeping us in that game,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s going to be a good hockey team over there. Commend them on the way they played tonight. We were fortunate to win.”

Just like the pucks, Crawford fended off praise, too. He wasn’t searching for credit for the win. He was just happy to win.

“I don’t know [how I’d rate my performance],” Crawford said. “I rate it as a win. That’s the only thing that counts. I was pretty excited and relieved when that went in. It was a great series. They played hard and never quit against us. Just felt like they kept coming harder and harder as the series went on. We stuck with it. That overtime, that was some pretty good hockey by us. We pressed pretty hard. Don’t know what else to say. It was pretty awesome to finish it off.”

Rapid Reaction: Hawks 2, Wild 1 (OT)

May, 13, 2014
May 13
11:25
PM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. PAUL, Minn. -– Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime win over the Minnesota Wild in Game 6 of their Western Conference second-round series at the Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.

How it happened: Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane scored the game-winning goal at 9:42 in overtime. The Blackhawks got the start they wanted. Kris Versteeg gave them a 1-0 advantage when he scored 1:58 into the game. The Wild answered in the second period when Erik Haula skated past three Blackhawks for a loose puck and finished on the breakaway. The Wild put Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford to work in the second period. They had 14 shots on net. Crawford stopped 13 of them. He finished with 34 saves on 35 shots. Wild goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov made 25 saves on 27 shots.

What it means: The Blackhawks won the series 4-2 and advance to the Western Conference finals for the fourth time in the last six seasons. The Wild hadn’t lost at home in the playoffs. They had won their first five home games prior to Tuesday. The Blackhawks improved to 12-2 in games in which they clinch a series in the past six seasons. They also improved to 10-4 when on the road in Games 4-7 in their last nine series. Both teams had four overtime games in the first round. The Blackhawks improved to 3-2 in overtime playoff games this season.

Player of the game: Crawford was the difference for the Blackhawks. He stopped a number of quality chances by the Wild.

Stat of the game: The Wild were 0-for-3 on the power play. The Blackhawks killed 15 of 17 power plays in the series.

What’s next: The Blackhawks will await the winner of the Anaheim Ducks-Los Angeles Kings series. The Ducks lead the series 3-2. The Ducks would have home-ice advantage over the Blackhawks, and the Blackhawks would have it over the Kings.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Patrick Sharp
PTS GOALS AST +/-
78 34 44 13
OTHER LEADERS
GoalsP. Sharp 34
AssistsD. Keith 55
+/-M. Hossa 28
GAAC. Crawford 2.26