Blackhawks

Five Things from Game 6: Blackhawks top guys bring top games

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Five Things from Game 6: Blackhawks top guys bring top games

It’s not how you start. It’s how you finish. And while the Blackhawks would love to start a hell of a lot better than they did on Saturday night, they’ll take the way it ended.

Duncan Keith’s goal with less than four minutes remaining pushed the Blackhawks past the Nashville Predators, 4-3, and sent them into the second round of the postseason. They’ll wait to see who they play and we’re guessing you’ll be watching Game 6 between the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues on Sunday afternoon, too.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we make any Sunday plans, let’s take a look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ first-round-clinching victory over the Predators.

[MORE: Blackhawks rally to beat Predators, advance to second round]

1. Duncan does it again.

Yes, he plays a ton of minutes and sometimes it shows in a gaffe here or there. But Duncan Keith’s ability to come through in those minutes is also evident. That lengthy sequence on which he scored the game-winner on Saturday was impressive. He faked twice as Predators defenseman Seth Jones challenged, and with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews setting screens, Keith came up big. As Quenneville said of Keith’s ability to play long and well, “as the game progresses, some guys get more taxed and get fatigued and decision making becomes poor. He’s just the opposite.”

2. Crawford gets another chance.

Corey Crawford did all the right things and said all the right things during his benching. And when Scott Darling got the hook at 11:16 of the first period, it was Crawford’s chance to get his game and confidence back. He didn’t have to stop many shots; the Blackhawks allowed just 13 the rest of the way. But he made the necessary big stops on the penalty kill and down the stretch when the Predators were looking for the equalizer. Said Hossa, “I’m sure he wasn’t too happy with the situation but when he was in there he was ready and strong for us. It was huge.” And it sounds like Crawford will start the second round, too.

3. Top guys bring top games.

You need your best players to come through in critical situations. Have a look at the score sheet for Game 6: Keith, Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane were the Blackhawks’ goal-scorers. Saturday was the second time Keith’s had a game winner this postseason and Sharp and Toews each had their third of the playoffs. Said Kane, “whatever comes of it, whether it’s goals, good defensive plays, nice passes, whatever it may be, all of us are ready to play in these situations and have a lot of experience to play in these situations.”

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4. Kane is just fine.

Kane said he was a bit nervous of how he would feel when he got that first big hit on his surgically repaired left clavicle. Once he got it, absorbed it and felt fine after it, he shifted the focus back to his game. And his game is certainly looking good. Kane scored with just six seconds remaining in the first period and added an assist on Toews’ power-play goal.

5. Bravo, Nashville, for a fantastic series.

This was an entertaining one between these two, and full marks to the Predators for giving the Blackhawks everything they had. They started the series without Mike Fisher. They ended the series without stellar defenseman Shea Weber. And they just about forced a Game 7. The Predators are in a good situation and are going to be a handful again next season.

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

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USA TODAY

Corey Crawford expects to make season debut for Blackhawks on Thursday vs. Arizona

The wait is almost over.

After missing nearly 10 months with a concussion, Corey Crawford said he expects to start on Thursday when the Blackhawks take on the Arizona Coyotes at the United Center. An official decision will come following the team's morning skate.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. ... It was a pretty long process. But I think the most important thing was not to rush anything. When I finally was out, it got to a point where I wasn’t in shape to play and it was time to rest and it’s unfortunate it took a lot longer than I would’ve liked. 

"It’s been long, but finally, just to get back and be practicing with the team has meant a lot. It’s good to get to this point now when you’re really close to playing. 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."

Crawford's last appearance in an NHL game was Dec. 23, 2017 against the New Jersey Devils when he allowed three goals on seven shots in 13:22 of action before getting pulled. So of course, emotions will naturally be running high, especially in front of the hometown crowd.

"I'm sure I'll be a little anxious getting into it," Crawford said. "Some nerves. But we'll see. We'll wait until the morning, but I'm definitely excited I can tell you that."

It's obviously terrific news for the Blackhawks, who have picked up eight out of a possible 10 points to start the season and are getting their two-time Stanley Cup winning goalie back between the pipes. It's been a long time coming, and Crawford is coming back into a healthy situation where the Blackhawks are in a good spot in the standings.

"It's great news, I'm sure it'll be exciting for him exciting for our team, exciting for our fans and the organization as well," Patrick Kane said. "It’s probably a good situation all around. Cam [Ward] has done a great job of playing in the net so far. Crow is really good in practice right now, so I’m sure he’s itching to get back, too. We’ve had a good start here. It’s something we want to keep going, and I’m sure him coming back on home ice, in front of our crowd, will be a fun one for him and for our team."

There's no doubting how important Crawford is the team and organization. While there may be a little bit of rust early on, the Blackhawks are expecting him to look like his old self.

"He means a lot to the team," Quenneville said. "We felt last year was a good example of how important he was and how well he was playing for us, as well. We’ve gotten off to a decent start and he was a big factor in it. We know that goaltending is such a big part of the team and your success a lot of nights depends on him and his consistency’s always been in place.

"But he looks good in the net. He’s been off for a long, long time. Is there rust? Do we expect rust? I think the way he’s competing and practicing and finding pucks, he looks like he hasn’t missed a beat. So we’re looking forward to him getting in there and getting comfortable and how he’s feeling going forward will dictate a lot of the decisions about him going back in."

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Crawford's return, Saad's demotion and power play concerns

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Charlie Roumeliotis and Slavko Bekovic provide their thoughts on the Blackhawks’ 3-0-2 start.

They also discuss Brandon Saad’s demotion and whether it could serve as a wake-up call, Corey Crawford’s potential return on Thursday vs. Arizona and what could happen with Anton Forsberg because of it, and address the power play concerns.

The guys wrap up the podcast by making a few bold predictions going forward.

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