Corey Crawford shines, Jonathan Toews scores game-winner as Blackhawks beat Wild in OT

Corey Crawford shines, Jonathan Toews scores game-winner as Blackhawks beat Wild in OT

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Corey Crawford was his usually cool self after Wednesday’s game, the inconclusive review that went against the Blackhawks and took quite a long time to figure out didn’t seem as much of a big deal anymore.

“I mean, sometimes you get them, sometimes you don’t. It’s a fast game, tough for the refs to call everything you want and call it perfectly,” he said. “I know in the moment you want to swear at them and break your stick, but sometimes you just don’t get it and you have to keep playing.”

The Blackhawks did keep playing. Crawford kept stopping pucks. And by the end, despite that lengthy look and a lost lead in regulation, the Blackhawks got the necessary two points.

Crawford stopped 35 of 38 shots and Jonathan Toews had the game-winning goal in overtime, part of his three-point night, as the Blackhawks beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3. The Blackhawks are now five points behind the Wild, who still lead the Western Conference.

Ryan Hartman had his third goal in as many games and Richard Panik scored his 12th of the season. Nick Schmaltz also scored. It was a great game with a few interesting moments – including that lengthy review on Zach Parise’s game-tying goal, which the Blackhawks thought was offside, in the second period. But the Blackhawks kept their cool and got through it.

“Huge win,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had to win the game, keep us within striking distance [of the Wild]. They were on such a roll, first game back off a road trip and a tough game for them. I thought Crow was big down the stretch. Jonny had a big game. We did a lot of good things and had the start we were looking for as well. Tough to give up that one at the very end [of regulation] but certainly getting two points was important.”

The Blackhawks had a 2-0 lead thanks to Hartman and Schmaltz’s goal. But the Wild, who were coming off a victory in Winnipeg on Tuesday night, never looked fatigued and responded after Schmaltz’s score. Jared Spurgeon scored first before Parise scored on his own rebound. The Blackhawks claimed offside on their review but, after officials looked at it for more than five minutes, they deemed their views inconclusive and the goal stood. The NHL explanation was this:

Review was not conclusive in determining whether Parise had had tagged up at the instant the puck touched Charlie Coyle's stick. According to Rule 78.7, “If a review is not conclusive and/or there is any doubt whatsoever as to whether the call on the ice was correct, the On-Ice Official(s) will be instructed to confirm their original call.” 

The result was frustrating. So was the delay.

“Tough time to wait that long and it end up being a goal,” Hartman said. “But we responded well and kept with it.”

Full marks to Crawford, who may have had his best post-appendectomy game on Wednesday night. Many of the opportunities Crawford stopped were stellar, as the Wild got to the doorstep too often.

“He certainly was huge,” Quenneville said. “Had to make [stops on] some dangerous plays, a couple key ones there in overtime. Nice to see him get big win for us and break that schneid that we had against this team. Certainly nice to break it.”

The Blackhawks broke the Wild’s regular-season hex on them. It wasn’t easy and it took a little longer than they expected but they kept their cool.

“That was a big win for us against one of the best teams in the league for now. Some good momentum for us on the road, too,” Crawford said. “Just have to bring that to the next game.”

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Why fixing penalty kill is crucial for Blackhawks in 2019-20

Just how important is special teams in the NHL?

Of the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason, 14 clubs had at least one special teams unit that was ranked in the top half of the league and 12 teams had at least one unit ranked in the top 10.

The Blackhawks finished the season with the 15th-ranked power play and 31st-ranked penalty kill. The Blackhawks' 72.7 percent kill rate is the lowest the league has seen in 30 years.

“The penalty kill is something that clearly has to be better," GM Stan Bowman said. "That was a big disappointment this year, no question about that. So we have to devote some resources to that. Some of it might be players, if we get some players that have that kind of experience or have a history. Part of it is tactically can we find ways to be better. We have a lot of time now to study it and put a lot of our focus on that.”

Jeremy Colliton did not rule out getting external help to improve the PK.

“We’re going to look at everything, for sure," he said. "We’re going to look at obviously tactically and we’re going to look at the personnel and how we’re using guys and try to put them in the best situation we can. And maybe that’s new, different guys who weren’t getting the opportunity. Or maybe that’s someone from outside.”

The Blackhawks did manage to fix their power play issues this past season. When Colliton became head coach on Nov. 6, the Blackhawks power play was near the bottom of the league. By December, the man advantage was dead last, cashing in on fewer than 12 percent of their power plays.

Colliton made Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Erik Gustafsson his top power play unit and from Dec. 20 till the end of February they were the league's best unit, converting on 35.2 percent of their power plays.  

Gustafsson’s addition to the power play was a major factor in the unit's improvement.

"A big part of our power play progression and transformation from being at the bottom to being in the top group," Bowman said of Gustafsson. "I was really pleased with that and we're going to need him next year for sure.”

If the Blackhawks penalty kill can make strides like the power play did, Colliton’s crew will likely be playing at this time next season.

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Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

Recapping breakout OHL season for Blackhawks top prospect Adam Boqvist

The London Knights set high expectations for themselves going into the 2018-19 OHL campaign. They always do. Their roster is usually loaded with top NHL prospects and this season was no different.

After finishing No. 1 in the Western Conference with 99 points, the Knights looked poised to go on a deep run. They got off to a roaring start in the playoffs by sweeping the Windsor Spitfires (4-0) and kicked off the second round by winning three straight against the Guelph Storm. But then, for the first time all season, the Knights lost four in a row to squander a 3-0 series lead and were eliminated just like that. It was a disappointing finish for a team with Memorial Cup aspirations.

One of the bright spots of the postseason was Blackhawks prospect Adam Boqvist. He was tied for first among all skaters with 10 goals through two rounds; no other defenseman had more than six. And he finished with 13 points in 11 games for a points-per-game average of 1.18.

To summarize his season: Boqvist scored one goal in his first 15 games. From that point on, he finished with 29 goals and 60 points in 50 games, including playoffs. He became an offensive driving force.

It's unclear what his future holds, but with Evan Bouchard expected to turn pro and secure a full-time roster spot on the Edmonton Oilers next season, returning to London would put Boqvist in a position where he could be the No. 1 defenseman in all situations.

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