(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Chicago Blackhawks advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2010 when they defeated the Minnesota Wild 5-1 on Thursday night. Marian Hossa scored twice for the Hawks, and with the win they will prepare to either face the San Jose Sharks or the Detroit Red Wings in the next round.
Before we start moving ahead to that second round matchup, it is good to take a moment to reflect upon the events of the first round. In the NHL, at the end of the playoffs the Conn Smythe Trophy is given to the MVP of the postseason, but there is no individual honor for each round of the playoffs.
With that in mind, who was the MVP in the Blackhawks’ first round victory over the Wild?
In the spirit of how the NHL does things, we have come up with three nominees. And they are:
F Patrick Sharp (5 goals, 1 assist)
During the regular season, Sharp battled both health concerns and scoring inconsistency en route to only six goals scored on the year. In the playoffs, however, everything changed, as he potted five goals and had two two-goal games in the series.
What’s even more notable about his play was that he still has not been in the lineup when the Blackhawks have lost a game in regulation this season. Obviously, that’s not all about him, but the fact is that he comes to play every night, aggressively pushes the tempo on offense, and has proven that when his scoring touch is on, he is as dangerous as any left winger in the game.
D Duncan Keith (1 goal, 4 assists)
In the postseason, a team needs its biggest stars to produce, and Keith did that on both ends of the ice in this series. He was excellent defensively and on the penalty kill (the Wild didn’t score a single power play goal in five games), and his offensive game was up to par as well, leading all defensemen by a wide margin in points and shots.
Keith has gelled well with Niklas Hjalmarsson since the two were paired together earlier in the year, and the union has allowed Keith to excel in the type of two-way game that he plays. When he attacks, Hjalmarsson stays back. When Keith stays home, they can clog up the middle of the ice and prevent good scoring opportunities for opponents. Some may pine for the days of Keith/Brent Seabrook being paired together, but the reality is that Keith is playing better with Hjalmarsson, and he and head coach Joel Quenneville deserve credit for making it work.
G Corey Crawford (1.32 GAA, 1 shutout)
Going into the postseason, there was a ton of talk about whether or not Crawford would be able to help his team to a single series victory, let alone a Stanley Cup title. While the latter criticisms haven’t been fully met, the former have been and then some. Crawford has been stellar throughout the playoffs thus far, with great aggressiveness and lateral movement preventing and stopping numerous quality Wild scoring chances.
If this is the kind of play that the Blackhawks are going to get from their goaltender, combined with their stellar defensive efforts, then this is going to be a difficult team to stop moving forward into the next round.
And the Winner Is…..
At this time of year, there is always an argument to be made in the other direction when a decision like this is reached, but for us, the winner of a tight race is Crawford. Sharp and Keith both have been instrumental to the team in these playoffs, but Crawford has been playing at a consistently high level while having the somewhat unfair burden of trying to prove naysayers wrong.
The goaltender has the full confidence of his teammates, and after an excellent first round, he likely has the full confidence of a large majority of Hawks fans too.