The Winds of Change: The Chicago Blackhawks Advance to Round 2.

The Winds of Change: The Chicago Blackhawks Advance to Round 2.

In the midst of a 5-1 victory it is easy to overlook the performance of Corey Crawford in this series. He is a player who I have never really been sold on up until this point, and I can't really say that I totally am yet, but man does he deserve a lot of credit for this series. In fact, 2 other players who I have often criticized, or haven't become a believer in had significant performances in this series.

Hossa, a player I tend to be cynical about might have been the most consistently productive forward in a Hawks uniform.

Kruger, whom I often critique for just not being good enough to be in the NHL had one of the most significant performances on the ice in back to back games, playing quite literally at the top of his game.

We saw the top line finally find some production at the level we would anticipate from them last night, we saw the PK continue its successes, a power-play goal (more on that later), and a final score worthy of some praise for the Hawks being the offensive powerhouse they are supposed to be.

With that said and out of the way, the Hawks still didn't play all that amazing, they still have a few levels to notch it up to if they want to move onto the 3rd round, and they still had a pretty bad start to last night's game.

Crawford deserves most of the credit for this game getting to the point of a Hawks blow out, because it took a while to get things rolling offensively. The PK had to be strong in an early PP for the Wild when a face-off violation penalty was called on the Hawks. Again, I haven't been too fond of the officiating in the entire league so far. Anyway, Crow made a couple of huge saves on this early kill.

I was beginning to wonder when the intensity would show up for the Hawks and then Hossa brought it by going hard in the Wild zone past the halfway mark in the period, which was the best play by anyone is a Hawks uniform up until that point besides Crow's. And still, I was left wondering where the Hawks transition game was, where the prolific cycling was, and where the puck possession game was.

Give credit to the Wild in this entire season for being so hard on the forecheck that it never really allowed our D any space to begin smooth breakouts. It exposed some weaknesses in Leddy which have me worried. But, IMO, the Hawks were just letting the Wild out skate them. Cut to a terrible pass by Seabrook yet again, leading to a Minnie scoring chance yet again, and the rationale for fearing the Hawks chances becomes more prevalent.

Then the first line woke up, and skated hard for one big shift which changed the momentum just enough in the favor of the Hawks. Saad was hard on the puck initiating a turnover by the Wild in their own zone, Toews followed suit winning a battle down low, who set up Hossa for a one-timer blast. 1-0 Hawks. This is where the Wild started to show little signs of giving up, and the Hawks began to wake up a bit. Hossa would follow this up with a couple of other great shifts that led to the little plays that matter the most.

Toews would begin putting together the type of dominant performances we had been asking for. Very good signs indeed.

That's what this game, and series boils down to for me, the little plays that win the small battles. It just didn't seem like the Hawks were all that interested in having to win those battles because they could rely on their talent to overcome the Wild in the end. Hey, maybe they will be all the more healthy in round 2 for it, but they can't continue playing hockey like that if they want to keep winning.

The Hawks let Minnie destroy their transition game, which let Minnie impose on their puck possession game, because when the Hawks turned it up just a little, all the difference was made.

And because Kruger has been hustling his butt off, he got rewarded with a wrap around goal. Harding, whom I feel for, definitely wanted this one back, but the effort was there by Kruger, and that warranted a goal. 2-0 Hawks, but the Wild weren't completely dead yet. They continued to hound or D-men, forcing bad turnovers, until IMO, the 3rd line decided they were done with this game and series.

It could be said that throughout this series, the 3rd line might have been the most positive combo on the ice for the Hawks. They, along with the first line have an overwhelming ability to win the little battles, and pressure their opponent for sustained periods of time. It was a really strong shift in the 2nd period, followed by a goal later that silenced the Wild for good.

You saw a change in the way this game was being played, and a move to the dominant play executed so well over the course of this season after Shaw scored to make the game 4-1. It was especially hurtful to the Wild because they had just made the game 3-1 moments earlier, finding new hope. New hope can be deadly to a team when crushed quickly. When the 3rd line came together 30 seconds or so later for a response, it was the last words needed to end the series.

I hope the Hawks learned something from those moments. When they got on the ice hungry, they produced. When they let the Wild be hungrier, their talent was still there to pull them out, but it never felt sustainable. They need sustained effort going forward, and some of Q's responses in the post game interview suggest he believes the same. For once, I feel like Q is saying the right things.

The rest of the game was history, as the Hawks started following strong shift after strong shift, and the Wild continued to retreat.

We saw a 5-on-3 power-play goal by the Hawks which gives an ounce of hope for the future, but doesn't really excite me too much. The Hawks need to be hungrier here as well. They need to play with an intensity closer to their PK level as when on the man advantage. Hell, the Sharks pretty much just won a series based on power-play goals.

I hope some of the rest they will see now, and ending on a high note carries into the second round no matter who they play. I can see them getting complacent against the Sharks as they did in this series, and we know the Sharks have more reasons for revenge, given that the Hawks have knocked them out in recent history with a sweep. Plus, they will be starring down at an old friend in net, who just might have it in him to steal a few games, even though the Hawks have had success against him in the recent past.

I anticipate some great things from the top line this coming round, and I think some issues need to be focused on with the second line. Handzus didn't exactly wow us in this series, and it seemed like too much was being asked of Sharp. The power-play needs an overhaul like 3 months ago. Good thing they have some time for Bolland to get healthy, and maybe even fix some of those woes on that suffering power-play.

It was a good feeling to end the series with authority like that. I hope the Hawks soak it all up.

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  • So psyched for the Hawks / Wings matchup! Win or lose, it's only fitting they get a final playoff matchup in this conference. This will be great hockey the way it's supposed to be played!

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