Players and coaches for the Chicago Blackhawks are likely waking up this morning and already mentally and physically preparing themselves for their series with the Los Angeles Kings, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to reflect on the series victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
With that in mind, we ask ourselves the same question we did after the first round series against the Minnesota Wild: Who was the MVP for the Blackhawks during the previous round?
Here are the nominees:
Yes, Crawford let in a couple of soft goals during the series, including a real head-scratcher Wednesday when he didn’t even move in the crease as Henrik Zetterberg racked up an easy tally, but by and large he was absolutely terrific for the Hawks in the series.
His rebound control was spot on for the most part. His lateral movement in the crease was quick and confident. He maintained an aggressive approach to coming out to the top of the crease to challenge shooters. He fought through screens set by guys like Dan Cleary to get better angles on pucks.
In short, he did everything that he needed to do in order to help the Hawks come back from the 3-1 series deficit they faced, and without him, the team would have been sunk.
We profiled Bickell during the Detroit series, and with good reason. He was one of the best offensive players for the Hawks in the series, not only in the goal scoring department but also in the intangible areas so critical to the execution of the team’s game plan.
He crashes the net, he bangs bodies in the corners, and he is constantly working in the dirty areas of the ice to make plays happen. That ability to hold onto the puck under duress was on full display in Game 7 of the series, when he battled for and won a puck in the neutral zone with a Red Wing draped all over him and then shoveled it into the zone to allow the Hawks a scoring chance.
They may be little things, but Bickell does them in a big way, and if he indeed leaves Chicago after the season, he will be sorely missed.
Most of the headlines surrounding Frolik will have to do with his penalty shot goal in Game 6 that kept the Blackhawks’ hopes in the series alive, but the real impact of Frolik’s game has come on the penalty killing side of things.
As a team, the Hawks allowed one power play goal in 24 attempts against them in the series, running their playoff percentage to an astounding 97.6% success rate. That is due in no small part to the aggressive style that Frolik employs on the team’s top penalty killing line, as he harasses puck carriers and is able to clear the zone quickly in even the tightest of spots.
Frolik is often the butt of jokes because of his seeming inability to finish on scoring plays (in similar fashion to Viktor Stalberg, who has a slightly NSFW nickname in the Twitterverse), but when the Hawks are a man down, there is no one that they rely on more.
Defensive pairings are often looked at as more of a chemistry experiment than an X’s and O’s kind of thing. Players get to know one another’s tendencies and seem to have a preternatural understanding of where the other guy is going to be on a given play.
In the case of Keith, he had to not only rely on the experience he gleaned this season in being teamed with Niklas Hjalmarsson, but he also had to turn back the clock in his brain and remember how Brent Seabrook played when Quenneville shifted around Keith’s partners before Game 5.
To his credit, Keith did not miss a beat. He played a spectacular series defensively, played a huge part in the team’s power play successes in Game 5, and in general looked more like the 2010 Norris Trophy winner than he has in quite a while.
In a series marked by defensive lapses by a slew of other players, Keith stood tallest when it mattered most, and helped his team in a big way.
And the Winner Is….
In a narrow upset, we are going with Keith over Crawford. Obviously, a team’s best penalty killer is their goaltender, but Keith did a solid job of limiting quality chances during the series in that area, and excelled at even strength as well.
His discipline helped the Hawks even as the rest of the team flailed about at times, and there was never a moment that it appeared panic had set in with the 29-year old defenseman. His resolve was strong throughout, and he is a perfect representation of what the Hawks did right in order to win their second round series.