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« Blackhawks Set Pace on Wild to Go Up 2-0 Blackhawks in Western Conference Final, Sweep Wild »

Blackhawks Wed May 06 2015

Kane and Crow Steal Show in Game 3 Win for Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks Coming into Tuesday night's tilt at the Xcel Energy Center, the Blackhawks were a mere 1-9 in Game 3s on the road under head coach Joel Quenneville. The usual narrative read like a road map these last handful of years: Take the first two and then settle in on the road, while trying to steal one, preferably in Game 4.

The Game 3 slide happened twice last postseason: once against this same Wild team and then again in the Western Conference final against the eventual Cup champs, the Los Angeles Kings. Last night, however, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford rewrote that narrative, and now the Hawks are up a commanding three games to none on the Minnesota Wild and look to close out the series Thursday night.

Once again, the Hawks dominated at the dot, winning 63 percent of their faceoffs compared to just 37 percent for the Wild. Jonathan Toews was much better, especially after struggling against Nashville, going 15 of 22 (68 percent), which included going a perfect 6-6 in the neutral zone.

The Blackhawks also played fantastic defense against the Wild, most especially in transition and in limiting close shots on Crawford -- and those shots that did find a way near the crease were turned away brilliantly by the Crow. Beyond that, Niklas Hjalmarsson blocked most everything that came his way, and the Hawks did just enough to disrupt the Wild's pass attempts, which created more turnovers.

The Wild did manage to outshoot the Hawks 30-22, but attribute that to a few bursts in the Hawks' zone and a failed power play which produced three shots. Surprisingly, Teuvo Teraveinan led the Hawks with four shots on goal and was only one shot attempt behind Mikael Granlund for leading all skaters. The more this happens, especially this late in the postseason, the better it will work for his confidence.

There might only be one more game to go to finish out this series, but stranger things have happened (look at the Kings last season). However, if the Blackhawks play anywhere near this good in Game 4, this series will be over.

And that all starts and ends with Crawford, the game's number-one star Tuesday evening. Crow stopped 27 even-strength goals and three power-play attempts to notch his fourth career playoff shutout, and was able to improve upon this year's postseason stats, going 4-1 and posting a .916 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average.

One thing Crawford seems to be doing more often than before is releasing the puck back into play when his line mates are nearby. Crow used to squeeze the puck and rely on a faceoff in his own zone to be won and played past the blue line.

This was a move that Scott Darling did more times than not -- sometimes with authority in swatting the puck away like a fly -- when he relieved Crawford and started against Nashville. This now limits more scoring chances for the opposition and credit Crawford for taking note while riding the pine. Just as long as he releases the puck without trouble nearby, this should help the Hawks do what it is they do best: move the puck quickly in the opposite direction in transition.

Once again the third line for the Blackhawks looked great and controlled the puck throughout most of the contest. The image below, courtesy of War-On-Ice.com, highlights the strength with which they played:

WOI_Hawks.jpg

The key to the top-left of the image indicates CORSI-for, which measures shots on goal, including missed shots and blocked shots. Blocks in red are lowest with blue being highest. All three players in Patrick Sharp, Antione Vermette and Teraveinan, ranged between 60 percent and 65 percent while on the ice together.

By comparison, and one thing the Blackhawks will need to manage a little better, is the Wild and its top line of Zach Parise, Jason Pominville and Granlund, who, combined on ice, ranged between 65 percent and 70 percent in CORSI-for percentage.

WOI_Wild.jpg

It seems the Hawks have turned the table on the Wild in how they played against them in last season's second round -- puck possession and staunch defense that created turnovers. They should be able to keep the intensity up for Game 4, and if they're able to keep the Wild crowd out of it early, they'll return home to prep for either Anaheim or Calgary.

 
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