Blackhawks

Goalie wins to power-play goals: Five Things from Game 3

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Goalie wins to power-play goals: Five Things from Game 3

ST. PAUL, Minn. — The Blackhawks have gotten victories a few different ways against the Minnesota Wild.

They’ve won the back-and-forth game. They’ve won the big-scoring game. On Tuesday they won with the goaltending-and-defense game. And all the ways they’ve won have them with a big 3-0 second-round series lead on the Minnesota Wild.

Corey Crawford stopped all 30 shots he faced in the Blackhawks’ 1-0 victory over the Wild, and now Minnesota faces the must-win Game 4 on Thursday night. There’s no doubt the Wild is going to throw everything at the Blackhawks and Crawford, who collected his fourth postseason shutout on Tuesday night.

[MORE: Crawford, Blackhawks shut out Wild in Game 3]

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before we call it a night at Xcel Energy Center, let’s look at the Five Things to take from the Blackhawks’ Game 3 victory over the Wild.

1. Crawford collects a “goalie win.”

That’s coach Joel Quenneville’s phrase for it, and it fit on Tuesday. When Crawford struggles, he looks shaky and his rebound control is suspect. There were nosuch issues on Tuesday. Crawford didn’t allow many rebounds; if he did, the Blackhawks cleared them quickly. Said Patrick Kane, “he’s big in the net. He seems to react really well to pucks and he’s been great throughout the whole year and years past. I think we have all the confidence in the world in him.”

2. Kane does it again.

Kane, who’s now about 10 weeks removed from that fractured left clavicle, just keeps having a stellar postseason. His power-play goal tonight was his sixth goal of the postseason and seventh career playoff goal against the Wild. Kane is on a six-game point streak, with five goals and three assists in that time. Said Quenneville, “he has a hot stick, he’s dangerous. I think he gives a lot of different looks for the goalies. They don’t know where it’s coming off his stick and it has some torque on it as well.”

[SHOP: Get a Patrick Kane jersey here]

3. Defense keeps improving.

The Blackhawks’ team defense was not only giving up a lot of shots early this postseason, they were giving up a lot of quality opportunities. They’ve cut down on both, especially in the last 10 games. The Blackhawks have stymied the Wild, who have just one goal in their last seven periods. Said Duncan Keith, ““You have to be able to win all different ways. It’s a great hockey team over there. Nothing’s been given to us.”

4. The penalty kill comes through, too.

We joked that the Blackhawks basically went on a 20-minute kill in the third period in Game 3. Hey, it seemed that way. But the three times the Blackhawks did go on the kill, they looked good. The Wild didn’t get a shot on their first and third power plays, and Crawford stopped three shots on their second advantage. “We had some timely kills, some disruptions on entries, blocks, clears,” Quenneville said. “There were some real desperate kills by our group, particularly that last one.”

5. In the driver’s seat?

It would be easy to think this series is over, the Blackhawks being great at closing things out when they have sizeable series leads. But they’re also a group that’s been around long enough to know that the Wild isn’t going to go away quietly. The Blackhawks expect the Wild to come with its biggest push on Thursday night. “It’s nice but at the same [time] we can’t be complacent or let up,” Crawford said. “That team is going to play even harder next game. We’ve got to do the same thing.”

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

How Blackhawks plan to handle Corey Crawford's workload

Corey Crawford is back and it didn't look like he skipped much of a beat. The Blackhawks were handed their first regulation loss of the season to the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday, but the 33-year-old netminder stopped 27 of 30 shots (.900 save percentage) in his season debut and made several timely saves to keep his team in it.

In the larger picture, it was a win based on how well Crawford looked between the pipes.

"Yeah, I think it is," coach Joel Quenneville said after practice on Friday. "It's one of things we were wondering, how he would handle post-game and how he came in today. Very encouraging signs. He felt good in all aspects of what he went through and dealt with, and practiced well today too, so that was good."

The first one is in the books.

But what's the plan going forward? Will Crawford be on a "pitch count" or will they treat him like they have in past seasons when he was healthy?

In the past, Crawford has generally started somewhere in between 55-58 games per season. Part of that has been because of injuries. Another part is the Blackhawks have had reliable backups, which allowed them to give Crawford an extra night off here and there to keep him fresh.

It's not unreasonable, though, to think Crawford could flirt with 50 starts, considering he missed only five games to start the season. And they can still accomplish that by playing it safe.

The Blackhawks have 13 more back-to-backs this season, which gives them the opportunity to start Cam Ward at some point in each of them. That leaves room for another 15 or so starts to sprinkle in for Ward that could serve as rest days for Crawford and still being on track to start around 50.

Obviously, the Blackhawks want to be careful with how much they ask of Crawford because concussions are tricky to deal with and every player responds differently to it.

His return comes at a time where the Blackhawks are slated to play seven games in 11 days after playing just two in the previous 10. Thursday marked the start of that stretch.

"He’ll tell us how he feels and we’ll go from there and make those decisions," Quenneville said.

The Blackhawks have been on record saying they prefer not to carry three goaltenders. But in this case it makes sense. At least in the short term.

Quenneville said Friday that the Blackhawks will reevaluate the situation at the end of the weekend following the beginning of a busy stretch where they'll play three games in four days.

"Yeah, that’s the mindset," he said. "Let’s see how we handle these three in four and then we’ll address it."

Crawford is expected to start on Saturday in Columbus, making it his second start in three days. That's when they'll get a better sense of how he's handling things.

If it were up to him, Crawford said he feels he's prepared for it.

"Yeah, sure," Crawford said. "Why not? I've been working hard with [strength and conditioning coach Paul Goodman]. He's got me where I need to be, so I'm in shape right now. Why not?"

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

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USA TODAY

Hawks Talk Podcast: Thoughts on Corey Crawford's season debut

In the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle, Jamal Mayers and Charlie Roumeliotis recap Corey Crawford’s season debut after missing nearly 10 months with a concussion.

Mayers talks about the Kitty system that Niklas Hjalmarsson and Vinnie Hinostroza probably dealt with in their returns to Chicago.

The guys also discuss what’s next for Crawford, the upcoming matchup against Artemi Panarin and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Blackhawks’ biggest areas for improvement.

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