Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
The top ’Hawks are on a mission. It sounds cliché saying something like that during the playoffs. Everyone’s on a mission to get a Cup. But the ’Hawks’ core group got pantsed quite a bit in the playoff series these teams had last season. Sure, the ’Hawks won in six games, and the star players contributed on the score sheet. But the Wild outplayed the ’Hawks on several occasions while Crawford stood on his head in net for much of the series. You don’t think the ’Hawks might want to right a wrong there, especially after hanging both their goalies out to dry at separate times against Nashville? Toews will hammer into his teammates’ heads a reminder of their inconsistency against Minnesota last year and Nashville this year. More likely than not, they’ll respond positively.
On a similar note, Crawford will be looking to bounce back from his temporary benching and put on a show like he did in 2014. The man has led the ’Hawks to the promised land before, so expect him to frustrate the Wild.
Also, just look at the offensive stats so far. Toews has eight points, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane have seven apiece, and Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook are all at four or more. The right guys are producing at the right time. For the sake of comparison, only four Wild (what is a Wild?) have more than three points in the postseason thus far. Minnesota’s puck possession struggles can give the aforementioned ’Hawks (and others) just the opening they need on offense.
Game 6 against Nashville set a standard defensively. Obviously, we don’t want a repeat of the first 11-plus minutes of that outing. But the final 38-plus were something to behold. The ’Hawks stifled an opponent better than we had seen since … a while, as the Preds only got off 13 shots in that time. It’s no secret the ’Hawks struggle to consistently bring that type of suffocating defense night in and night out, but when a team is 12 games from a world title, you can bet it’ll appear more frequently. The 2014 ’Hawks just showed what they are capable of defensively in a high-pressure situation, and you can bet coach Joel Quenneville is harping on that in practice before Game 1. The ’Hawks know they can bring that type of pressure more than once a series, and they’ll bring it in heavy doses once this series opens. And when it’s just not there, Crawford can come up with a big save. It’s a perfect defensive recipe for success.
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