I cannot believe how many people seem to be so down on Chicago after last night’s game! There is no doubt the Hawks came out shaky at the start of the game, and yes, Minnesota’s one and only goal is certainly one Crawford would like back, but from then on Corey Crawford was solid. He blocked shots, was alert and aware, and made some pretty incredible saves. Of course I would feel better if Emery were healthy to back up Crawford, but can we please have a little faith in a goaltender who is a major reason for the team’s success this season? I am more concerned about the lack of urgency and aggressiveness I saw with the offensive line than I am with the goaltending.
By now, everyone should understand that the Blackhawks are not wired to be a physical or aggressive team, they are made up of skill players. The Hawks will beat a team with jukes, stick/puck handling, speed and endurance, not by how hard they can hit. I didn’t see it much last night but I have seen it improve this season. Most importantly, I am starting to see a stronger presence in front of the net. So many goals can be scored off rebound opportunities or because of the obstructed view of the goalie. Viktor Stalberg has really made an effort to be a strong net presence as well as Andrew Shaw. That is a position that has to be fought for and those guys really do what they can. Now Stalberg is 6’3, 209 lbs so for him to physically hold that spot is tough, but he shouldn’t have trouble holding his own. Shaw on the other hand is 5’11, 165 lbs. For those of you who have heard me talk about how much I love Andrew Shaw, this is just one of the many reasons why! He’s not afraid to fight for position, he doesn’t back down from a challenge, and he is so scrappy! I really look forward to seeing how much Shaw is going to improve as he matures and adds on more weight these next few years.
But back to last night’s game, I don’t think the reason the Hawks didn’t dominate is not because they were cocky, I think it was nerves, excitement and the transition into playoff hockey. The Hawks are expected to succeed this postseason. After the record-breaking start to the season and winning the Presidents’ Trophy, there is a lot at stake. Many have said their season would mean nothing if they don’t win the Cup. I don’t really agree with that, but that’s a lot of pressure! Not to mention Josh Harding had an incredible game last night! For a guy who hasn’t played since February and didn’t even know he was going to play until about 20 minutes before puck drop, it sure didn’t take him very long to shake off the cobwebs!
So now game 1 is over, the nerves have been settled, the transition has been made, and the Hawks are up 1-0 in the series. So let’s all take a deep breath, hope for a speedy recovery for Ray Emery and Dave Bolland, and look forward to Friday. Have a little faith in a very strong coaching staff, a Captain who leads his team by example and a team who recovered from a lockout by having the best record in the NHL.