Blackhawks

Wild excited for 'another crack' at Blackhawks

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Wild excited for 'another crack' at Blackhawks

The Wild have been down this road before; for the past two postseasons, to be exact.

In each of the last two years, the Blackhawks ended Minnesota's playoff run, but as both teams prepare to face off in the second round, the Wild feel this could be the year that trend changes.

"They're a great team, and they're always the team you've got to beat if you want to get out of the West," Zach Parise told Michael Russo of the Star Tribune. "These guys are, every year, they're Cup contenders. For us to get in that conversation with them, we've got to beat them.

"It's good for us to get another crack at them. I thought we had a good series with them last year. You want to go down and get on in Chicago and have a good start to the series."

[MORE BLACKHAWKS: Blackhawks aware Wild not the same team from past playoff battles]

The Wild earned their playoff berth with a 2-1 victory against the Blackhawks back on April 7, a drastic departure from their previous trip to the United Center in January when Ryan Suter described every day as a "bad day" as the team's losses continued to pile up.

The Blackhawks and Wild met three times this season, and the Blackhawks picked up victories in the first three matchups leading up to that January game that seemed to push frustrations to a new level.

But just three days after that loss, the Wild picked up goaltender Devan Dubnyk, and that's when everything changed.

All of a sudden, the Wild started winning. Their chemistry was back as Dubnyk went on to have an incredible run that included victories in Minnesota's two remaining regular-season games against the Blackhawks.

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"We're a different team than we were then," Parise told CSNChicago.com after that April 7 game. "We're playing just better as a group from goaltending out. We're playing a better team game."

The incredible turnaround Minnesota's had this season was again on full display when the Wild sent the St. Louis Blues packing after a Game 6 win in the opening round.

Now the Wild — who are 0-6 against the Blackhawks at the United Center the past two postseasons — are confident they have what it takes to reverse the narrative against the Blackhawks, but they know it'll take a lot of hard work.

"We've had to be ready for a little while now just to get in," Jason Pominville told the Minnesota media. "We got in feeling good about our game, and it kind of snowballed through the first round. Now we're past the first one, we've got to look at what's ahead of us.

"But knowing that we've played these guys the last couple of years, it's not going to be easy. They're a good team. They're an elite team. They've proven it. We've got to be up for the task."

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!