The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in an advantageous position at the moment, winning their last two games against the Minnesota Wild and clinching a berth in the Western Conference Final for the second straight season. Their advantage is only enhanced by the fact that they still don’t know who their opponent will be, as the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will have to play a winner-takes-all Game 7 on Friday night.
Before we get too far into previewing what the next round will hold for the Blackhawks, we thought it’d be appropriate to ask a simple question: who was the MVP for the Blackhawks in the second round triumph over Minnesota?
Here are our nominees:
Crawford had a really good series against the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs, and he proved that his run was no fluke as he stood tall against Minnesota.
In six games against the Wild, Crawford racked up a .926 save percentage and only allowed 12 goals in six games, including two combined in the final two games. His Game 6 performance was particularly masterful, with the goaltender making 34 saves on 35 shots as he kept the Hawks in the game long enough for Patrick Kane to score the series winning goal in overtime.
Crawford is constantly being underestimated by both fans and media members, but his playoff performances are leaving little room for debate. In seven career games where his team has had a chance to eliminate an opponent, Crawford has a 6-1 record, allowing fewer than a goal and a half per contest. The only loss came in Game 7 of the first round of the 2011 playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks, but Crawford can be given a bit of a pass considering that he was the main reason the Blackhawks were in that series in the first place.
In a conference with goaltenders like Jonathan Quick, Mike Smith, and Antti Niemi, Crawford is quickly proving that he belongs in the conversation as one of the league’s best, and this series was just one more example of why.
Hossa is one of the Blackhawks’ key players on both sides of the ice, and while his defensive skills were critical as the Hawks found a way to slow down the Wild offensive attack, he was at his absolute best on offense.
In the series, Hossa racked up a goal and eight assists, giving him nine points in the series and 11 points in the postseason and cementing his status as one of the team’s premier offensive players. Despite playing on several different lines during the series as head coach Joel Quennevile tried to find the right formula for his team, Hossa found chemistry with just about everyone, including Jonathan Toews and Bryan Bickell.
If the Blackhawks are going to repeat as champions, they are going to need players like Hossa to step up their game in these kinds of situations, and he has proven an ability to do so in the postseason thus far.
So far in 12 playoff games, the Blackhawks have given their opponents 46 power play opportunities. The Blues and Wild have combined for only four goals, giving the Blackhawks a 91.7 percent success rate on the penalty kill. Kruger has been a key component in that group, and has continued to do great work alongside Michal Handzus in short-handed situations.
Kruger doesn’t often get the recognition that he deserves as a versatile player that is willing to do all the little things right to get his fair share of playing time. He kills penalties, plays stout defense at even strength, and can even fill in at second line center as a solid puck distributor alongside guys like Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane.
Kruger didn’t have the most spectacular series from a statistical standpoint, but from a standpoint of contributions to the team, he was definitely in the conversation as second round MVP.
And the Winner Is…..
It is really tempting to go with Hossa, whose nine points and constant offensive presence were a great boost to the Blackhawks in the series, but we are narrowly choosing Crawford for this distinction.
Yes, he had a bit of a rough time in Game 3 as he surrendered four goals on just 18 shots, but through the rest of the series, he was a tough customer. His play in Games 5 and 6 alone were worthy of note, and he was also solid in Game 1 as the Hawks’ offense took a while to get going. He is an elite goaltender, and he could end up winning the Conn Smythe Award if the Hawks can do the improbable and win back-to-back Cups.