From Crawford on out, Blackhawks come up big defensively


From Crawford on out, Blackhawks come up big defensively

It took the Minnesota Wild nearly half the first period of Game 2 inside the United Center to register a shot on goal, and it wasn't until the third period that Matt Dumba got the visiting team on the board.

After allowing three goals in a single period five separate times this postseason — including in Game 1 against Minnesota — the Blackhawks needed to put on a better defensive performance. 

On Sunday, they did just that.

"That was another big win for us," Crawford said following the Blackhawks' 4-1 win. "We want to be up 2-0 going into their building. We had a lot of good chances tonight and we were able to capitalize on the really good ones. That definitely felt good for the team right now."

From Crawford on out, the Blackhawks put on arguably their best defensive performance of the postseason. Pair that with star players putting pucks in the back of the net, and it resulted in the type of strong 60-minute performance the Blackhawks had been looking for.

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"I think it was our best game all the way around," coach Joel Quenneville said. "Good pace and energy from the outset, good pace to our game, defensively solid, all lines were consistent, had a lot of offensive zone time, puck possession. We played the right way."

Jonathan Toews opened the scoring with a short-handed goal off a feed from Marian Hossa. The Wild responded the way you'd expect, fighting to get the puck into their offensive zone in an attempt to shift the momentum their way as quickly as possible.

Crawford, however, was having none of that, and made a number of big saves just after Toews' goal that led to a standing ovation from the crowd.

"That was huge," Quenneville said. "They had swarming on the net, two or three shots, crowd went crazy. Corey was solid. They had a couple of big flurries in the game but Corey was outstanding in those situations. Kept the momentum going our way even though they had a couple of good looks."

[MORE: Stars shine bright for Blackhawks in Game 2 win]

That momentum resulted in a goal from Patrick Kane just 19 second before the end of the second period. And while Dumba's goal is one Crawford would like to take back, his strong response after that kept the Wild from scoring again as Patrick Sharp and Kane went on to give Chicago more breathing room.

"There's lot of talk about the goals we scored, and the defensive plays leading to those guys scoring the goals, but Crow made some huge saves there in the second period to keep us I think tied in the beginning and made some big saves a 1-0 for us," Sharp said. "That's big. The building gets into it, they start chanting his name. That energy feeds into our lineup and we play better from there." 

With Sunday's win, the Blackhawks have remained undefeated in postseason games against Minnesota while on home ice. Crawford was a big reason that statistic remained perfect for Chicago as he made 30 saves in their Game 2 victory.

Now the Blackhawks will look to carry that type of defensive performance and momentum on the road as they head to Minnesota for Games 3 and 4.

"It's nice to get these two wins but by no means are we satisfied," Patrick Kane said. "We took care of business at home, now we have to go on the road and focus on Game 3."

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

NHL Draft Profile: D Quinn Hughes

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Quinn Hughes

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-10
Weight: 170 pounds
Shoots: Left

Scouting report:

"He's got the puck skills, is a good skater, and is a guy with some high-end offensive talent. He wants to get right in there and play where it's hard and where you get rewarded. When he gets that puck on his stick, he wants to bury it."

NHL player comparable: Torey Krug/Kris Letang

Fit for Blackhawks:

It's no secret the Blackhawks are looking to restock their pipeline with some high-end defensemen. Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell are on the way. But the former isn't a lock to be a full-time NHLer this season and the latter will continue playing in college for the 2018-19 season.

Hughes, who shined at Michigan and the IIHF World Championship with Team USA, would have the best chance of the three to crack the Blackhawks lineup first. The problem is, he likely won't be available at No. 8, so if Hughes is the guy they're locked in on, they'd need to trade up to grab him. 

If they did that, Hughes would give the Blackhawks a third blue line prospect they can get excited about. He's a left-handed shot, which evens out the balance in the system, and he would become a prime candidate to eventually replace Duncan Keith as the team's No. 1 defenseman.

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

NHL Draft Profile: F Oliver Wahlstrom

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Oliver Wahlstrom

Position: Right wing
Height: 6-foot-1
Weight: 205 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Wahlstrom already has an NHL-caliber shot with a quick release and the ability to create space for himself and linemates. He's most known for his goal-scoring ability and elite shot, and can hit a one-timer as good or better than many professional players."

NHL player comparable: Phil Kessel

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would probably prefer to take a defenseman at No. 8, but because four of them might go inside the Top 7, the best available player on the board is likely to be a forward. And there's a decent chance that could be Wahlstrom.

Wahlstrom would immediately become Chicago's top prospect, and a player that has the potential to slide into the top six when he reaches the NHL — whenever that may be.

He's committed to college for the 2018-19 season, so it's doubtful he would join the team until at least 2019-20, but Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley said in our draft preview edition of the Hawks Talk Podcast that it wouldn't deter them from picking him. 

And it shouldn't, because you don't want to waste a player of his caliber's entry-level years developing in the minors if he's not ready yet.

"I think the way we would evaluate it is, we project them, we try to get a timeline on when we think they might be NHL ready," Kelley said. "But we're also looking for where they are in their development curve and want their ceiling is. I think in some players, you have to be a little bit more patient for them to reach their ceiling. That doesn't necessarily mean that players can't exceed their development curve, I think we saw that with Alex DeBrincat last year."