While the attention of plenty of Chicago Blackhawks fans will be turning toward the Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Boston Bruins, it does behoove us to take a look back at who was the most valuable Blackhawk during the team’s Conference Final victory over the Los Angeles Kings.
There are plenty of deserving nominees, so we’d love to hear your opinions on the matter in both the comments below, or if you’d prefer to tweet us your agreement/displeasure, you can do so to our account @Madhousenforcer.
With that being said, here are our four nominees for WCF MVP:
Bickell’s impending free agency has been talked about so much in these playoffs that plenty of fans are already sick of hearing about it, but the praise has been well deserved.
In five games against the Kings, Bickell had at least a point in every contest, and ended up with three goals and four assists in the series. It would have been four goals, but a certain Buffalo-native with a goofy haircut happened to steal one from him during Game 4 of the series.
At any rate, Bickell has been a huge component in the team’s playoff successes this year, and will need to stand tall again against a Boston team that is loaded with gritty, physical players.
Crawford may have allowed just north of two goals per game in the WCF, but he was especially crucial to the Hawks getting out to a 2-0 lead in the series. His Game 2 performance was the stuff of champions, as he backstopped the Hawks through a withering storm of Los Angeles pressure in the second and third periods of that game.
In addition to that, he shone brightly despite being overlooked by many because of the presence of Jonathan Quick in the other net. He outplayed the 2012 Conn Smythe winner with several fantastic performances, including his Game 5 effort that featured 11 incredible saves in the first overtime period.
To illustrate just how excellent Crawford was in the series, consider this: it took a fluke goal by Slava Voynov on a broken stick to actually best Crawford and the Hawks. When that is all that’s standing between you and a series sweep, things are definitely looking up.
Crawford is a legitimate Conn Smythe contender for the Blackhawks, and there are plenty of reasons why he could take home that hardware if Chicago wins the Cup for the second time in four seasons.
The Swedish-born defenseman has been subjected to plenty of scrutiny over the course of his NHL career, but when his team needed him most, he stepped up in a big way in this series.
Hjalmarsson showed himself to be a multi-faceted player during the two games in Los Angeles in the series. In Game 3, he took a slapshot to the inner part of his thigh, and had to be helped off the ice by an official as the Hawks were killing a penalty. He ended up coming back shortly after that, and like the hard-nosed player that he is, looked no worse for wear.
In addition to that, Hjalmarsson asserted himself more offensively in the absence of teammate Duncan Keith in Thursday’s Game 4 matchup. He ended up picking up two assists in the game, including a secondary one on Patrick Kane’s second period tally that in reality would have been a primary assist because of the wicked slapshot he fired from the blue line through traffic.
As the playoffs have worn on, Hjalmarsson has settled into the comfort zone that he spent most of the 2010 season in for the Blackhawks, and his disciplined and steady play on the blue line have helped the Hawks get back to the Cup Final once again.
Kane may seem like an odd candidate considering that for over half of the series he wasn’t a very visible component of the Hawks’ effort, but his final two games in the series ended up being difference makers, and that kind of performance in crunch time is worth mentioning.
Not only did Kane score three goals in Game 5, including the series-clinching tally Saturday, but he also played his hockey of the playoffs from an overall perspective. He was aggressive on defense, forechecking the Kings frequently in the offensive zone and backchecking them when they started their breakouts into the neutral zone, and he also was much more aggressive in trying to find open lanes to the net.
He peppered Quick with shots from everywhere in the last two games of the series, and his trademark wrist shot was on full display as he fired home three top-shelf tallies in the final game of the series.
Kane may not have had the best postseason of his career, but with 10 goals in 11 career games when the Hawks have the chance to close out an opponent, he is clearly a clutch performer.
And the Winner Is….
In the first round, it was Crawford. In the second round, it was Duncan Keith. For the Conference Finals, we are going with Bickell in a narrow triumph over Hjalmarsson. All four players profiled here deserve a huge deal of credit for helping the Hawks to victory, but it was Bickell who set the table for everyone, and gave the team a huge boost in multiple roles for Chicago.
He thrived on both the top line and the third line as head coach Joel Quenneville kept swapping him around, and even though the free agency narrative is grating on many fans’ nerves, it’s a great sign for a team seeking another championship that they are getting this kind of performance from an unlikely source.