Blackhawks

Stanley Cup Final: Konroyd's keys for Game 1 of Blackhawks-Lightning

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Stanley Cup Final: Konroyd's keys for Game 1 of Blackhawks-Lightning

1. Special teams need to be special

The Blackhawks have not lost a playoff game when they have scored a power play goal in 2015. Pretty important stuff when you consider they have done this in seven of their 12 wins so far. The margin between winning and losing is so close in the playoffs that you have to take advantage of your advantages. I really like how Brad Richards is fitting in on the point as part of the No. 1 power play unit. He has great chemistry with Patrick Kane, and is always looking for No. 88 when he has the puck. But beware of your perceived advantage. Tampa Bay has scored three short-handed goals — tied with Chicago for most in the playoffs — so don’t relax when you have the extra man.

2. Keep an eye on Stamkos

Steven Stamkos did not have a very good start to the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with just one goal in his first 11 games, but the leader of the Lightning has struck frequently ever since. He has six goals in his last nine games and now one of the most dangerous shooters in the NHL is feeling really good about himself. And why shouldn’t he? Stamkos finished the regular season with 43 goals,  good for second best in the NHL. Of those 43 goals, 17 came against Original Six teams. That means 40 percent of his goals came against 20 percent of the league. Now, I’m not into conspiracy theories here, but Stamkos is a student of the game and he obviously brings it up a notch against these historic franchises. He has 11 goals in just nine career games against the Blackhawks. Stamkos, Alex Killorn and Valtteri Filppula make up a dangerous trio.

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3. Crow takes Bishop

As often happens in a tightly contested Stanley Cup Final, and this one should be, how your goalie plays says a lot about who hoists Lord Stanley when all is said and done. I really liked how Corey Crawford played in his last two games against Anaheim, stopping 65 of 70 shots in those two contests. Not only was that a fairly heavy work load, but he also did a fantastic job of playing pucks to defensemen and forwards during those games, relieving a lot of pressure from the Ducks forecheck. Ben Bishop has been really good, and then not so good, during his last five starts. Yes, he shut out the New York Rangers on their home ice in Games 5 and 7, but in Games 3, 4, and 6, he allowed five goals in each of those contests, He was pulled during a very important Game 6 in Tampa. Get to Bishop early and get him thinking about bad goals.

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

Blackhawks make it official: Corey Crawford is back

He’s back.

Corey Crawford will start in goal for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 when the Blackhawks host the Arizona Coyotes, coach Joel Quenneville confirmed after morning skate on Thursday morning.

"It’s exciting," Quenneville said. "I’m sure he’s looking forward to it and we’re all excited about it as well. It’ll be a fun situation for the guys, seeing him back in the net as well. So we’re looking for everyone to be excited about tonight’s game."

The two-time Stanley Cup champion was medically cleared to practice from his concussion on Oct. 1, but the Blackhawks wanted to give Crawford as much time as he needed to get his conditioning and puck-tracking skills up to game speed before putting him into game action.

"It feels good to be back to myself," Crawford said on Wednesday. "I'm feeling good, I'm feeling clear. It was a pretty long process. ... 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."

To make room for Crawford on the 23-man roster, the Blackhawks will assign forward Luke Johnson to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League. Brandon Saad, who wore a white healthy scratch jersey all week at practice, will take his spot in the lineup.

For now, the Blackhawks will hang on to Anton Forsberg and carry three goaltenders as insurance as they get ready to start a seven-games-in-11-days stretch.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts in 28 games last season. The Blackhawks were 17-30-8 without him and finished last in the Central Division.

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Is Crawford ready to go?

Jimmy Greenfield, Connor McKnight, and Matt Spiegel join Kap on the panel to discuss Corey Crawford back on the ice for the first time in 10 months. The Bears have good news when it comes to Khalil Mack, who injured his ankle against the Dolphins.

Plus, Fred Hoiberg announces that Jabari Parker is coming off the bench for the season opener.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: