Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
The “Big 4” were stellar. Rozsival and Kimmo Timonen did what they were asked to do in their limited minutes during the series. They minimized mistakes and kept things simple from a defensive standpoint. But coach Joel Quenneville made it clear the ’Hawks would rely on Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya for heavy minutes. And all four delivered defensively. Even when Minnesota was pushing hard in Games 3 and 4, those defensemen made sure Crawford wasn’t seeing 20 shots in 3 minutes. They cleared pucks effectively, generally kept Crawford’s net area clear of screening Wild and made entries across the blue line a nightmare for Minnesota.
In addition to 5-on-5 action, Keith and Seabrook saw powerplay and penalty kill time throughout the series and made important contributions. Hjalmarsson and Oduya took to the kill again and again, putting their bodies in front of shots and using solid positioning to be right on top of free pucks. Keith and Seabrook took on their assignments with Rozsival and Timonen, respectively, and still stifled the Wild. The Big 4 were on top of their game throughout the series, and it left the Wild bashing their heads against the wall. No matter who Q decides to insert as the sixth defenseman in the Western Conference Finals, we’re sure to see 24-plus minutes of Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Oduya in each game.
Crawford was (way) better than Dubnyk. Let’s first look at the statistics. Oft-maligned Crow posted a shutout in Game 3 and silenced the Wild for the majority of the series. There was the rough 10 minutes in Game 1 where Minnesota scored three times, and there was the scary last three minutes of Game 4 where the Wild tallied twice. Besides that: Dumba’s goal in Game 2 and Haula’s strike in the second period Thursday. That’s it. Crow played 240 minutes in the series and allowed two goals over about 227 of them. That equated to a .949 save percentage across four games. Additionally, Crow’s rebound control throughout the series was fantastic. After the wonky play in Game 1 where Crow could have frozen a puck that Parise eventually knocked into the net, the Wild had next to nothing to work with at Crow’s doorstep.
Meanwhile, the Vezina Trophy finalist Dubnyk posted a save percentage above .900 in one of four games, leading to a .904 overall figure (for reference, Crow was at or above .909 in all four outings). The Wild relied on Dubnyk several times too many, as he was burned by his team’s poor puck possession in Games 1 and 2 before just being burned a couple times in Games 3 and 4. There’s a saying for football that defense wins championships. For hockey, it’s defense and goaltending. And the ’Hawks received a stellar four games from Crow. He led the team to a Cup in 2013 and stepped back up to that form for this series. We can expect it to continue beyond this point as well.