Blackhawks

Crawford, Blackhawks shut out Wild in Game 3

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Crawford, Blackhawks shut out Wild in Game 3

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Corey Crawford was over the first round when the first round was over.

He said he moved on from the ups and downs he had that series. He was focused on the second round, on the Minnesota Wild. On Tuesday night, his focus and performance kept the Wild off the score sheet.

Crawford stopped all 30 shots he faced for his fourth career postseason shutout and Patrick Kane had the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the Wild 1-0 on Tuesday night. The Blackhawks take a commanding 3-0 lead in this second-round series, which continues with Game 4 here on Thursday night.

It’s the first time the Blackhawks have won a road Game 3 since the Western Conference Semifinals in 2010 (vs. the Vancouver Canucks). It’s the second time this postseason that they’ve won the opening road game in a series. The Blackhawks are now 29-0-0 when leading after the second period.

All of that was in large part thanks to Crawford, who was strong against a Wild team that was pushing, especially in the second and third periods. Crawford, who’s had his issues with rebounds, gave up minimal second chances on Tuesday.

“It was a great game for him, a goalie win,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s one of those games from the outset that he needed to be strong. He made some key stops, particularly in the second period and around the net in the third. They go hard to the net but he really held his ground. He was very effective with his rebound control as well. Big night for him and for us.”

[SHOP: Get a Corey Crawford jersey here]

Two nights ago Crawford took a Jared Spurgeon shot off his mask. He looked woozy at the time but said afterward he was fine. Two nights later, he certainly looked all right. His focus was there, from the power-play stops to the Wild’s breakaway chances.

“You’ve got to stay focused every game in the playoffs. Every bounce could be a goal that matters,” Crawford said. “Throughout the whole thing I thought our D were great. I was able to see all those shots and they were clearing stuff after. It’s a great job by our guys.”

On the offensive side of things, the Blackhawks didn’t generate a whole lot. They got what they needed, however, and it came on their only power play of the night. Patrick Sharp’s pass into the Wild’s zone didn’t have as much on it as he would’ve liked, but Andrew Shaw got to it and pushed it to Kane, who beat Devan Dubnyk five-hole for the 1-0 lead.

“I know, the puck was bouncing there,” Kane said. “I think Sharpie was trying to come over to me. It got to Shawzie and I think he said he heard me calling for it, so he just kind of threw it over and I got it and tried to shoot it quickly.”

Crawford and the Blackhawks’ defense did the rest, as did the penalty kill. After having a rough first round itself, the kill went 3-for-3 tonight. 

“Well, we’re happy for him,” Duncan Keith said. “At the same time, you know, whether it’s a loss or a win, it’s a team game. It’s not one guy in the room. Crow was certainly great tonight and kept us in it in certain little flurries throughout the game, but everyone was good tonight, and that’s the type of goaltending and team play you need this time of year.”

The Blackhawks defense is looking more like itself again. That includes Crawford, whose second-round outings are vindication for a first round that’s no longer on his mind. 

“It’s never easy, especially against this team in their building. They came hard the whole night but our guys stood strong, especially at the end we were all together as a unit,” Crawford said. “That was good for myself, but as a team, too, it was great for us defensively to have no goals in a game.”

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

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AP

Evaluating Blackhawks options after Anton Forsberg is placed on waivers

The Blackhawks have said all along that they don't plan on carrying three goaltenders, but wanted to do so during the three games in four days stretch just in case, with Corey Crawford coming back from a 10-month layoff because of a concussion.

After being encouraged by how Crawford has responded to his return, the Blackhawks placed goaltender Anton Forsberg on waivers Monday morning. Teams have 24 hours to put in a claim for the 25-year-old goaltender and would have to keep him on their NHL roster for 10 games and/or 30 days before he's eligible to go through the waiver process again.

His chances of getting claimed by any of the other 30 teams essentially depends on which teams believe Forsberg would be an immediate upgrade over their current backup — or starter, for that matter — or whether there's an injury to one of the team's two goaltenders that requires a placeholder, like we saw the Carolina Hurricanes do by claiming Curtis McElhinney from the Toronto Maple Leafs after Scott Darling's injury in the preseason.

If Forsberg goes unclaimed, the Blackhawks can assign him to the American Hockey League with the Rockford IceHogs. With Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen sharing the goaltending duties in Rockford, it's possible Lankinen gets sent to the Indy Fuel in the East Coast Hockey League to get consistent starts under his belt.

A third option, one that isn't very common but we've seen in the past as recently as last October with Maple Leafs goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, is that Forsberg can be loaned to any AHL team while still being a part of the Blackhawks organization. This would allow the Blackhawks to keep Delia and Lankinen in Rockford while Forsberg gets his starts in the AHL, too.

Or, the Blackhawks could simply trade Forsberg to another NHL team that could stash him in the AHL, as long as he clears waivers. They did it last season with Chris DiDomenico, who cleared waivers as a member of the Ottawa Senators but was then traded to Chicago for Ville Pokka days later. Had DiDomenico been claimed by the Blackhawks, he would have had to stay on the NHL roster as noted above.

Forsberg was 10-16-4 with a 2.97 goals against average and .908 save percentage in 35 appearances last season but has not appeared in a game yet this year. He was acquired as part of the Brandon Saad package for Artemi Panarin in June 2017.

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks looking for defensive improvement from everyone, not just defensemen

The Blackhawks were able to get away with their defensive lapses in the past solely because of Corey Crawford. When he went down with a concussion last December, those issues were magnified because he wasn't there to mask the flaws.

But it's reached the point where they can't rely on their goaltender to bail them out on a nightly basis, which is becoming another trend. Cam Ward allowed six goals to Tampa Bay on Sunday night, but made 49 saves — including 30 in the second period alone. He did everything he could to keep his team withing some sort of reaching distance and without his timely stops, the scoreboard could've looked much worse for the Blackhawks.

Something's got to change. 

When the Blackhawks talk about tightening things up defensively, they're not just putting it all on the defensemen. All five guys on the ice need to do their part and they're not doing it right now.

"I think we're trying to do too much and running around trying to do each other's job," Jonathan Toews said. "Sometimes we just need to simply and finish our checks and support each other."

No team has given up more even-strength high-danger chances through eight games than the Blackhawks at 110. That's 15.77 per 60 minutes. For reference, the New York Islanders finished worst in the league in that category last season and their number was at 12.96.

It didn't help that the Blackhawks spent nearly the entire second period in their own end on Sunday.

"We just couldn’t get it out of our zone, couldn’t get our stick on it, didn’t see pressure, didn’t feel pressure when we had it, were stripped," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Hence, we didn’t advance it. Kept looking like we were going up the ice and there were going to be some odd-man situations and then we’re the ones who were facing it."

That's one way to eliminate those high quality scoring chances, is getting the puck out of their own zone effectively or else it opens the door for Grade-A opportunities because of self-inflicted wounds. And it usually happens at the end of shifts when guys are tired, which often leads to goals.

"We have to learn how to play without the puck better and learn how to keep it," Quenneville said. "Whether it was our execution going up the ice, first pass poor and then we couldn’t change. A lot of things that happened yesterday were there tonight."

The Blackhawks weren't using three games in four nights as an excuse because Tampa Bay was in the same situation. It was an even playing field in that respect.

It's all about execution from everyone involved, forwards and defensemen. And the Blackhawks feel they're correctable issues.

"Of course," Toews said. "We've had some good periods this season so far. The first three, four, five games, everyone was excited and you guys are all talking to us much differently than you are right now. It's just getting back to playing that smart defensive game and playing with effort and letting our offense do the work. We know what's got to improve. It's right there in front of us."