ST. PAUL, Minn. – When the Blackhawks were going through their first-round series against the Nashville Predators, their offense was clicking. Their top players were contributing with goals and assists galore.
The penalty kill, the team defense and the goaltending, however, were more up in the air. The first two were struggling and the third was in carousel mode. And as the second round began, there were questions if the Blackhawks could improve in those three categories, and what would happen if they didn’t?
Well, three games into this series with the Minnesota Wild, those questions have been answered. The Blackhawks have returned to top form in all three, as evidence by their 3-0 series lead and especially their last two games, which they won 4-1 and 1-0, respectively. Corey Crawford has been part of that, too, allowing just one goal over his last two games and recording his fourth career postseason shutout on Tuesday night.
The Blackhawks are hitting their stride in just about every facet of their game right now, which is great for them and bad for anyone opposing them.
“It’s tough to say when you look back over the six or eight months that we’ve been playing. But I think we can be confident with how we are playing as of late,” Patrick Sharp said. “You mentioned four lines, six or seven [defensemen]. We’ve got some more guys that are ready to step in and we’ve used both goaltenders up to this point, so we feel good about our depth and where we’re sitting in the series right now.”
Coach Joel Quenneville has liked the progress the Blackhawks have made this round.
[MORE HAWKS: Crawford, Blackhawks shut out Wild in Game 3]
“I thought our first round was very close. It was on the line, game in and game out. Our game had good and bad but we’ve a lot more consistency in our game. More of a four-line rotation is coming out. No matter who’s going out there they’re doing the right things. We’re getting pressure, pace and that can make us a good team.”
The Blackhawks were playing a tenuous game through the first round. The offense was there from the start, especially from top forwards Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Sharp. It was what the Blackhawks were giving up that was more concerning. The penalty kill, especially, didn’t look like its typical shutdown self. But players just chalked that up to the ups and downs that come with the game.
“It’s not going to be perfect all the time,” Johnny Oduya said. “At the start of the playoffs there were some goals, a couple of broken plays, that we didn’t like. But we had the confidence. We talked about that the other day, too. In games when we needed to, we could shut them down. Obviously a game like yesterday, Crow was tremendous, too, so that helps a lot.”
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The Blackhawks weren’t perfect in the first round. They had areas in which they wanted – make that needed – to tighten up in if they wanted to be successful against the Wild. They’ve tightened up and are on the verge of eliminating the Wild for the third consecutive postseason. They’re getting scary good at a good time, at least for them.
“We’re playing well as a group,” Brent Seabrook said. “That’s what it takes to win in the playoffs is having 20 guys out there playing the same game.”