Blackhawks

Blackhawks treating Game 4 like it's a must win

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Blackhawks treating Game 4 like it's a must win

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks have reached this point again, although faster than most of us figured they would in this round.

They’re up 3-0 in this second-round series against the Minnesota Wild with a chance for a sweep on Thursday. But as we’ve written in previous rounds, the Blackhawks know that fourth victory is the toughest to get. And to get it this time, they’re going to have to bring their best game yet.

[RELATED - Good timing: Blackhawks' complete game returning]

The Blackhawks have a few chances to finish this series; their first is on Thursday when the Wild host Game 4 at Xcel Energy Center. But getting over that final hurdle is tricky. The opponent’s game gets that much more desperate and the Blackhawks have to match that, knowing it’s not the end of the world – or the postseason – for them if they do lose.

“You’ve got to expect them to come out hard. They’re not going to give up and roll over,” Andrew Shaw said. “They’re a great team. We’ve had some really tight games with them. So we’ve got to keep doing the same thing. We’ve got to play patient hockey and capitalize on our opportunities and if Corey [Crawford] keeps standing on his head and our [defense] keeps clearing the puck, we should have success.”

[MORE - Blackhawks playing strong team defense again]

At this time of year talk turns to teams having a “killer instinct.” Ryan Suter said the Blackhawks had it following their 4-1 Game 2 victory over the Wild. That instinct is something the Blackhawks tap into even more when they’ve got the chance to close a series. For them, every game has to be a must-win.

“We’ve been in a lot of different situations: we’ve been down 3-0, ahead 3-0. You’re always playing that next game like it’s a game you have to win. That’s your focus,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You don’t think of the three games after [Game 4]. Right off the bat, we want to make sure we’re playing the right way and not waiting for them to come at us. We want to make sure we try to quiet them even more effectively than we did yesterday.”

Several Blackhawks point to Game 2 against the Wild as their best of this postseason. They were strong on both sides of the puck and in goal. And they feel they’ll have to play as well as that, perhaps even a little better, to win this series.

“The Game 2 we had was probably one of our best in the playoffs,” Johnny Oduya said. “We want that effort, and that’s what’s going to be needed to win that game and that’s all we think about.”

[SHOP: Get a Corey Crawford jersey here]

The Blackhawks are closing in on another series clincher. They haven’t won anything yet and aren’t thinking past this next game. If they play accordingly, it could be their last game for several days.

“We have to treat it obviously like the game that it is. We know what’s at stake,” Oduya said. “You can’t really go away too far from what you want to do and how you want to play. It’s a fun game, the type of character games you want to be in. But with that said, we know how we have to play.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Corey Crawford is BACK, are the Bulls legitimate playoff contenders?

Mark Lazerus and Hub Arkush join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Corey Crawford’s return and what it means for the team’s playoff chances.

Khalil Mack misses practice again. The guys debate if it would be better to leave him out vs. the Patriots.

The latest on the MLB playoffs with controversy in Houston and gamesmanship by the Brewers.

Will Perdue and Kendall Gill join the panel to discuss Kris Dunn’s absence from the opener and the team’s playoff chances this season.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.

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Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

He’s back.

Corey Crawford was officially activated from injured reserve on Thursday and will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes.

"It’s exciting," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."

The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... Practices have been great, been getting timing a little bit more and getting up to speed and reading shots and all that, so it'll be nice to finally get in one."

To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks have assigned forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.

For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.