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Goalie tandem, depth help Blackhawks clinch first

by Dave Lozo

It should come as no surprise that the team that went 24 games to start the season without a regulation loss -- an NHL record -- was the first to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up their postseason spot by beating the Nashville Predators 5-3 on Sunday night. It marked Chicago’s third win against Nashville in seven days and sent the Blackhawks to the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

Just how did the Blackhawks do it? Here are five reasons for their dominant run to the postseason.

1. Two elite goaltenders -- Entering this season, the biggest question mark for the Blackhawks was goaltending. Entering the postseason, the biggest question mark for the Blackhawks is which one of their dominant goalies will be the starter. Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have shared the workload almost evenly and have nearly identical statistics. Crawford has a 2.01 GAA and .922 save percentage in 23 games; Emery has a 2.02 GAA and .920 save percentage in 18 games.

Goalies Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were considered a potential weakness at the start of the season, but they're one of the biggest reasons the Blackhawks are playoff-bound. (Getty Images)

2. Scoring from everywhere -- Even with Patrick Sharp out a month and Marian Hossa shelved for two weeks with injuries, the Blackhawks are still the NHL’s top offensive club at 3.24 goals per game. Brandon Saad, Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw are near a 20-goal pace for a full season, and defensemen Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy each have six goals. Yes, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have 20 and 19 goals, respectively, but the Blackhawks have been winning because of a deep, dangerous club.

3. A deep, healthy blue line -- Chicago’s top-five defenseman -- Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Leddy and Johnny Oduya -- have combined to miss one game due to injury. Seabrook and Keith look like the top pairing that helped guide the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup in 2010, while Hjalmarsson, Leddy and Oduya might be the best 3-5 group in the NHL. Throw in the fact that a steady veteran like Michal Rozsival is the team’s No. 6, and it’s easy to see why Chicago is allowing just 26.2 shots per game.

4. Staying busy during lockout -- While some teams had their players honing their craft with informal practices in the United States or Canada during the work stoppage, many of Chicago’s players kept busy overseas or in the AHL. Bickell, Michael Frolik, Hjalmarsson, Kane, Rozsival and Viktor Stalberg all went to Europe, while Marcus Kruger, Leddy, Saad and Shaw all skated for the Rockford IceHogs. That’s more than half of Chicago’s regular skaters, and it paid off with the electric start to the season.

5. Deficits do no matter -- It’s been pretty rare for the Blackhawks to trail in almost any game this season, but when they’re down, they’re never out of it. When trailing after the first or second period, they are a combined 6-4-3, the best win percentage in the League. It may not seem like a big deal, 15 of 26 points, but when every other team in the NHL is below .500 in points percentage in those situations, it’s how a club rises to the top.


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