The Blackhawks enter Tuesday’s Game 6 with a chance to close out their Second Round series against Minnesota, leading 3 games to 2. The Blackhawks took a crucial step toward advancing to the next round on Sunday with a 2-1 nail-biter of a game in Chicago; Bryan Bickell and Jonathan Toews scored for the Blackhawks, while Corey Crawford made 27 stops to earn his seventh victory of the postseason. Minnesota has made playing at the Xcel Energy Center into quite an advantage; they are a perfect 5-0 on home ice in the playoffs, compared to their 1-6 record on the road.
Captain Jonathan Toews once again proved to be a clutch player on Sunday, netting his league-leading fourth game-winner of the playoffs in the 2-1 victory off a rebound on a Marian Hossa shot. The Winnipeg native also ranks first in Blackhawks history and shares seventh among active players (with teammate Marian Hossa) with 10 career game-winning goals in the postseason. Toews has also played a key part in Chicago’s possession game: his 59.5 faceoff winning percentage leads all active players in the playoffs.
After being idle for 10 games, center Peter Regin found himself in Chicago’s lineup on Sunday with regulars Andrew Shaw and Brandon Bollig out, and acquitted himself nicely among the team’s bottom six forwards. The Danish pivot skated 11:27 in Game 5, collecting three hits while providing an offensive spark to the third line, and drawing the penalty that led to the team's power-play goal. Head Coach Joel Quenneville acknowledged his impact as well: “He came in and gave us good presence. That line was effective for us — gave us more balance, a four-line rotation. It was a good response in the first playoff game for him. We liked what we saw.”
After allowing four goals in consecutive outings in Games 3 and 4 on the road, netminder Corey Crawford said he needed a better effort in Game 5, and he gave the Blackhawks one. He made 27 saves, including 14 in the third period, to improve to 6-0 with a 1.29 goals-against average and .956 save percentage in six home playoff appearances this year. However, if the Blackhawks hope to conclude the series on Tuesday, Crawford will need to improve his road postseason numbers: the Quebec native is just 1-4 with a 2.91 GAA in five road playoff contests in 2014.
While the Blackhawks have kept Minnesota’s top players – including Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund – mostly in check this series, the Wild’s depth players have been very active on the scoresheet, led by Finnish center Erik Haula. The 23-year-old has netted four points (2G, 2A) in the five Second Round games so far, including the game-winner in Game 3 and the opening tally in Game 5.
One of the fastest skaters on either bench this round, the emergence of Haula and running mate Justin Fontaine has given the Blackhawks a couple more targets to focus on while in their own end.
Hoping to avoid a winner-take-all Game 7, the Blackhawks will need to bring their best effort if they hope to hand Minnesota their first home playoff loss of 2014. The good news is that recent history benefits Chicago: The Blackhawks now have a 14-2 record in Games 4-7 dating to the start of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and have won at least one road game in each of their last 11 postseason series. The Blackhawks will have to contend with Minnesota’s deep well of forwards, as well as the Wild having the benefit of the last line change, if they hope to seal the series. However, if they can get a similar effort from their own depth players as they did in Game 5, along with the increased scoring chances those players gave them, they have a good shot at advancing.