Blackhawks

Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles

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Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles

When the Blackhawks faced the Minnesota Wild in the 2013 Western Conference quarterfinals, most had a pretty good idea of how the series would go.

The Blackhawks were entering the postseason with a head of steam; it was the lockout-shortened season in which the Blackhawks started on a 21-0-3 tear and never looked back. The Wild, meanwhile, had to fight until game No. 48 to get into the postseason. So it wasn’t surprising that the Blackhawks eliminated Minnesota in five games that spring.

Much has changed since then. Last year when the two teams met, it was much closer with the Blackhawks fighting all the way to send the Wild home in six games. And considering how the Wild came on the second half of this season, the Blackhawks are expecting the tussle of their postseason lives in this round.

Indeed, this is not your older brother’s Minnesota Wild.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“You can see from the regular season, how they got in the playoffs and how they played in thefirst round, [that] it’s going to be a different team than the previous years,” Bryan Bickell said. “So we’re excited to be in the second round and have home ice.”

The Blackhawks face a very tricky test in the Wild. In the last two regular-season meetings (aka the Devan Dubnyk era), the Wild beat the Blackhawks both times, holding them to just one goal. The Wild also enter this series as confident as the Blackhawks do; Minnesota eliminated the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 on Sunday afternoon with Dubnyk and Zach Parise having a noticeably strong series. Dubnyk went 4-2-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Parise had three goals and four assists in those six games, including two goals on Sunday.

[MORE: Crawford in net for Game 1 vs. Wild]

“We feel like it’s going to be a long, hard-fought series but you never know. Anything can happen,” Corey Crawford said. “We have to be prepared to play our best. That team’s been getting better and better every year.”

The Wild is a different team than it was two seasons ago. Actually, it’s not even the same Wild team the Blackhawks faced five months ago; the Wild’s resurgence from mid-January until now was astounding. The Blackhawks are taking the Wild very seriously, as well they should.

“They’re a good hockey team and they had an amazing run to get into the playoffs. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They play an excellent team game. They’ve got some speed, quickness. They’ve gained a lot of momentum at this time of the year off what they’ve achieved,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I think we’re very familiar with their team, what they’re capable of doing and knowing that we’ve got a great challenge in front of us.”

Robin Lehner on things not working out with Blackhawks

Robin Lehner on things not working out with Blackhawks

Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner has only been with the Vegas Golden Knights for three days after being traded by the Blackhawks ahead of Monday's deadline. 

In a complicated transaction, Lehner was first traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for winger Martins Dzierkals, a 22-year-old unsigned draft pick. Lehner and Dzierkals were then traded to Vegas, getting the Blackhawks goaltender Malcolm Subban, defenseman prospect Slava Demin and Vegas' second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist has drawn attention for talking about how things were handled with the Hawks twice already in the three-day span. 

RELATED - Robin Lehner opens up on getting traded by Blackhawks

After a Knights' practice on Thursday, Lehner was asked if his pending unrestricted free agent status was weighing on him. 

“To be honest, that’s not weighing on my mind," Lehner told Vegas media. "There was other things weighing on my mind. I mean, I haven’t played to my potential the last few weeks and there’s a few things that kind of played into that. 

"I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play. I came there with a good mindset to fit into the team. I mean, I didn’t play much in the beginning or the middle-beginning of the season, even if I played really well and had a good camp. 

"Eventually I took over and I think I won like nine out of 10, 12 out of 15, and we walked up one point behind a playoff spot. Then all of a sudden, I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, negotiations had totally died out.” 

Lehner signed a one-year, $5 million free agent contract with the Blackhawks. He and Corey Crawford equally split the net, with Lehner getting the edge in quality performances the first half of the season. 

Crawford had a .939 save percentage from Jan. 15 to the trade deadline. Lehner's was .899 during that span.

“At the end of the day, we’re players playing for our lives and playing for contracts,” Lehner said. “I felt for two years I’ve played really well and I still can’t get something done, and I’m playing well and I can’t play. It hits your motivation part a little bit and I’ve got to do a better job of letting that kind of go away.

“I thought there was a future there and I did everything to get a future there, and I still couldn’t get a future there. In the end, the last couple weeks were tough, mentally, to kind of find a motivation needed.”

Lehner was 16-10-5 with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage in 33 appearances with the Blackhawks.

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What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

What the Blackhawks goaltending tandem could look like in 2020-21 NHL season

Going into the 2019-20 season, the Blackhawks had arguably the best goaltending tandem in Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. But both of them were on expiring contracts and we always knew there would be a point when the organization had to make a decision.

One of those decisions was made at the NHL trade deadline when the Blackhawks traded Lehner to recoup some future assets. But there's still one more to be made.

What will the goaltending duo look like next season?

The Blackhawks have two goaltenders under contract for the 2020-21 campaign: Collin Delia and Matt Tomkins, both of whom are with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

Kevin Lankinen, who was an AHL All-Star this season, is a pending restricted free agent along with Malcolm Subban, who was acquired by the Blackhawks from Vegas in the Lehner deal and is likely to serve as the backup for the rest of the season. Subban is arbitration-eligible, so, he has some control about how his next contract could look

Crawford is the only one of the group who is set to become an unrestricted free agent and he's the most established of them all. It's no secret that he wants to remain in Chicago and still believes he can be an everyday starter in the NHL.

Crawford's concussion history and the fact that he's 35 years old should certainly be noted when evaluating the future of the position but the Blackhawks should be encouraged by what they have seen from him this season. He's gotten better as the season has gone on and should get a bulk of the starts down the stretch.

All things considered, it would be a win-win for both the Blackhawks and Crawford to agree on a short-term extension. It gives the Blackhawks a couple more years to find or groom their future goalie and allows Crawford to finish his NHL career in Chicago as a starter.

Now, the question is: who will be his backup?

The Blackhawks saw enough of Delia to reward him with a three-year contract extension at a team-friendly $1 million cap hit, which kicked in this season. He was expected to be Crawford's backup if Lehner didn't surprise the hockey world by signing with the Blackhawks on July 1.

It should be Delia's job to lose going into training camp. He proved himself at the AHL level. He elevated his game during the Calder Cup Playoffs. And last season with the Blackhawks, he led the team in 5-on-5 save percentage (.925), high-danger save percentage (.866) and goals saved above average (2.96).

Subban is the wildcard. Besides Crawford, he has the most NHL experience of the potential candidates on the current roster but has struggled to take the next step with a career 2.97 goals-against average and .899 save percentage in 65 career appearances.

RELATED: What is the Blackhawks' big picture plan?

Another thing to consider is the 2021 expansion draft next summer. Every team is required to make available one goalie who is under contract in 2021-22 or will be a restricted free agent at the end of his contract prior to 2021-22. The Blackhawks probably aren't a team that has to worry about this because the goalies in their pipeline have limited NHL experience but it's still worth noting.

The Blackhawks are in no rush to figure out the future of their goaltending situation but it will certainly be on their mind going into the summer.

"I wouldn't say we've mapped out who it's gonna be," GM Stan Bowman said. "We have a lot of candidates and we've got to make that choice between now and next season. We have Kevin Lankinen, Collin Delia, Subban and Crawford. We're going to have to sort through that and look at the options. I don't have that answer for you today but, obviously, we don't have a proven NHL goalie signed for next year, so, we have to address that before next year.

"That’s something that’ll play itself out over the next few months here leading into the summer. We do have some decisions to make. It’s early to handicap what’s going to happen with the goaltending position. We need time to reset and analyze that."

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