Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews controls the puck in front of Wild blueliner Jared Spurgeon during the Hawks' 4-1 win in Game 2 of their second-round series Sunday. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)
The Blackhawks are an excellent team that's had some inconsistency in net of late. But veteran Corey Crawford solidified his hold on the No. 1 job with a stellar showing Sunday in a 4-1 Chicago win over Minnesota in Game 2 of their second round series. If Crawford stays at this level, the Wild will soon be summering.
The Minnesota Wild pulled back from the very edges of a coaching change and probable significant roster moves this season thanks to the acquisition of goalie Devan Dubnyk and a resilient performance on defense from his teammates. But what they're quickly learning yet again in their second-round series against the Blackhawks is the best team in their division – and quite likely, in the NHL – is virtually unbeatable if they can get an above-average showing in net.
Sunday in Game 2, that's what they got from veteran Corey Crawford, who stopped 30 of 31 Minnesota shots before an adoring United Center throng to lead the Hawks to a 4-1 win and a commanding 2-0 series advantage. While it was comforting to Chicago fans to see the usual suspects contribute on offense – captain Jonathan Toews scored the game's first goal; Patrick Sharp had a one-goal, two-point night; and Patrick Kane scored the other two goals to give him five in this post-season tournament – Crawford gave his teammates reason to believe he has the ability to lead them to a Stanley Cup championship for the second time in three seasons, and give the organization its third Cup in six years.
The Wild pushed harder as the game went on – going from a six-shot first period to 10 shots in the middle frame and 15 in the third period – but Crawford came up huge on a number of occasions and was beaten only on a Matt Dumba power play goal early in the third period. With Crawford playing this well, the Wild need Dubnyk to be perfect – and it's awful tough being perfect when Toews, Kane, Sharp and Chicago's other weapons on offense stand in your way.
Once again, Crawford was aided by a superior effort from Duncan Keith, who played a game-high 30:12 – Minnesota's Ryan Suter was second-best at 28:03 – and a Hawks lineup stellar enough to need Toews for only 15:06 of ice time Sunday. Barring a collapse over the remaining games in this series, the Blackhawks have the best chance of beating a powerhouse like Anaheim in the West and the New York Rangers in the Cup Final. They are like their captain: relentless, precise, methodical, merciless. You can see they live to play at this time of year and they're fortunate to have the depth so that every player is at their best when games matter most.
The Wild are an excellent team as well, but they don't have the type of depth Chicago does. Suter is in many regards Keith's equal, but it's the rest of the defense corps where the Blackhawks have the edge over Minnesota. Parise is in many senses the equal of Toews or Kane, but where the Wild have to turn to someone like Thomas Vanek (who failed to register a point and had just two shots in Game 3 while logging only 13:45 of ice time), the Hawks turn to Marian Hossa (who assisted on Toews' shorthanded goal), rookie center Teuvo Teravainen (who had an assist on Sharp's first goal and now has three points in four playoff games) and a host of others. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville must feel like the Baskin-Robbins of bench bosses most nights, with flexibility that would make hot yoga enthusiasts blush.
There really are just too many excellent Hawks players to defend against most nights, and the Wild is learning this the hard way for the third consecutive season. Unless Dubnyk totally slams the door on Chicago's numerous threats, it will be incumbent on Minnesota's skaters to pressure and squeeze Crawford for all they can. Because if Crawford continues to build confidence in the Hawks' net, this series will be over in a hurry.