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Stanley Cup Playoffs

Lehner Betters Crawford in Reunion With Chicago Blackhawks

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Dominik Kubalik #8, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Dominik Kubalik #8, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images) /
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The minute the world knew who the Chicago Blackhawks were facing in the First Round, a storyline immediately emerged around the goaltending match-up.

After signing Robin Lehner in the 2019 offseason, the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to be positioning themselves for greater support and success in their crease.

It was a welcomed addition for fans and the franchise, as it appeared to signal that this struggling lineup may be working to push things back towards a winning direction.

Having two top-notch goaltenders to choose from for any given night is a route that teams have become accustomed to exploring. The more traditional starter and the backup duo is being replaced by a 1A and 1B type strategy.

With the Blackhawks acquiring Lehner after the award-winning season he earned the year prior with the New York Islanders, it was exciting to imagine what this could mean for the organization’s rebound.

At the end of 2018-19, Chicago missed the playoffs for the second year in a row  That was after they were swept 4-0 in the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Needless to say, a lot had to improve.

Having a solid foundation between the pipes is something that is often seen as a critical component of any winning equation. Chicago seemed to be putting some important pieces together.

Lehner and Crawford willingly following the plan, splitting the workload. They were sharing the crease, with both getting the chance to stay involved and make an impact.

On a Blackhawks team that wasn’t doing much winning, Lehner was able to accumulate a winning record of 16-10-5. He also earned a better save percentage than Crawford, at .918.

Then, at the 2019-20 trade deadline, Chicago and Vegas made a deal.

Lehner was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights in an exchange that saw a current number two, at best, in Malcolm Subban replace him on the Blackhawks. So much for the shared starter strategy.

Crawford Takes His Crease Back

Following the roster revisions, the net was again Crawford’s to take over. He took full advantage of the opportunity to regain his place as the undisputed number one in Chicago.

Crawford ended the 2019-20 season with a record of 5-3-0, 2.63 goals-against average, and a save percentage of .921. He performed better than he was able to with Lehner around.

As the season came to a halt, the Blackhawks were starting to turn things around having won four of their last seven. Whether they’d win enough to make the playoffs was still in question, though.

Then the 2020 post-season plan was announced, which had the 12th place Chicago Blackhawks involved in a qualifying round against the Edmonton Oilers. The winner would be in.

After missing some pre-tournament training, Crawford was back with the rest of his team in Edmonton’s hub city set-up just in time to take part in their exhibition win against the St. Louis Blues.

With the odds stacked fairly heavily against them, the Blackhawks found a way through the Oilers. Crawford’s 43 save performance in the best-of-5’s final and deciding game paved their pathway.

Chicago was going into the First Round as the lowest seed from the Western Conference, so they were destined to meet whoever finished atop the rankings following the round-robin portion of the qualifiers.

After the Golden Knights went undefeated to cap off their re-seeding portion of the tournament, they overtook the first place position and set their sights on facing the Blackhawks in the First Round.

Lehner’s Not Losing

The stage was set for an unpredictable storyline that would certainly include some entertainment to follow. Lehner was up against the organization he was dealt from, stepping in for the one that wanted him instead.

He made sure everyone on the outside looking in was aware that he appreciated the circumstances, as well.

Lehner went 2-0 in the round-robin, including a 32 stop performance in the final match-up, while Chicago patiently waited for the results of that game to see who they’d be facing next.

Vegas went 4-0 through their qualifiers, splitting starts between their goalies, solidifying the first place position. A clear message was being sent to the rest of the league.

There was an immediate link made between the two teams and the debate began. Who would showcase their skills as the best stopper in this series?

First Impressions Count

The Blackhawks were riding high after battling beyond the Oilers, but the First Round is a whole new fight. Chicago would need their leaders to step up, including Crawford shutting his door.

It would be the first time Lehner would be facing off against his former Blackhawks team, who were coming off a confidence-building performance from Crawford to help get them there.

Undoubtedly, this was a more challenging match-up than they faced against Edmonton. Vegas is a deeper team with more talent throughout it, including the coveted starting goalie tandem.

https://twitter.com/Blackhawk_Up/status/1293326198915903499?s=20

Lehner got the net for Game 1 of this First Round meeting, with Crawford protecting Chicago’s at the other end. Post-season storylines often stem from the goalie and outward.

The Blackhawks were only able to land 20 shots on Lehner, of which 19 were stopped. Meanwhile, the Golden Knights threw 34 towards Crawford. Vegas scored on four of them, winning the game 4-1.

Lehner now remains undefeated with his new club, dating back into February 2020, and is 3-0 in these playoffs alone. Crawford is currently at 3-2 for this post-season.

Round one of this best-of-7 goes to Lehner, but there is still a lot of hockey left. Will his former team hand him his first loss since joining the Golden Knights or will he continue to shut down the franchise that bid him farewell?

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How the rest of this series rounds out is yet to be seen. If the Chicago Blackhawks hope to achieve any success throughout it, they’ll need to get more out of all their stars. Including, but not limited to, better performances from Corey Crawford.

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