Blackhawks

Blackhawks: Konroyd's keys to a Game 1 win over Wild

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Blackhawks: Konroyd's keys to a Game 1 win over Wild

1. Win the Board Battles.

Minnesota had a special run to end the regular season, going 28-9-3 and then upsetting the St. Louis Blues in the first round. This team has won 14 of their last 17 games on the road.

Yes, goaltender Devan Dubnyk was a big part of the story, but I watched a couple of the games in that St. Louis series and was amazed at how many pucks the Minnesota Wild won in the offensive zone. They have a lot of quick forwards with hockey smarts who pressure the puck in all the right areas. Make sure your exits are clean by getting back quickly, going tape to tape, and stop Minny’s fore check before it gets started.

[MORE: Blackhawks-Wild: Who has the edge?]

At the other end, get pucks deep and get them back with an energized attack. You should be well rested after 6 days rest between games.

2. Get to Dubnyk.

Dubnyk saved the day for the Wild when he was traded from Arizona on Jan. 14. The team has never looked back. Dubnyk went 27-9-2 with a miniscule 1.78 goals against average to close out the regular season. He was recently nominated for the Vezina Trophy, going to the goalie judged to be best at his position.

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But let’s not forget that Darcy Kuemper, another goalie in Minnesota, started the season with three shutouts in his first four starts for the Wild back in October. This is a very well-coached team that limits opponents' shots, conducive to big goalies who make the first stop. The key is getting to the second and third attempts. Rebounds were available in the St. Louis series against Dubnyk, and the Blackhawks have to make sure they are in the area to pick up any loose change.

3. Secondary Scoring a must.

You need your best players to be your best players if you want to advance in the postseason. We certainly saw that in the Hawks last series where Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith all scored goals in that last game and were also big factors in the series win against Nashville.

But any series, especially long ones, need foot soldiers to carry the load and be the heroes every once in a while. Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Marcus Kruger are capable of providing that secondary scoring the Hawks lacked in the series against Nashville. Minnesota is the kind of team that rolls all four lines, much like the Blackhawks, so getting goals from these types of players is a must.

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below, and be sure to subscribe, rate us and write a review!