The Chicago Blackhawks took a 1-0 series lead over the Los Angeles Kings last night at the United Center. In a matchup we saw last year in the Western Conference Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of the same faces but it will not be the same series.
The Hawks played a solid game against the Kings, resulting in taking a pivotal Game 1 win at home. As stated before, the Hawks and Kings are different teams from last year.
The Hawks had more all around scoring in the absence of their captain, Jonathan Toews’, offense. Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane mostly took on the scoring load in Toews’ scoring hiatus. Kane and Bickell each had nine goals in the postseason last year against Toews’ three. This year, Toews alrady has six goals after last night’s win, giving Kane and Bickell more of a chance to allocate their talents elsewhere, Bickell in front of the net and Kane as a sniper, rather than trying to offset Toews’ scoring woes.
The Chicago Blackhawks are using the same goaltender, but everyone is waiting for Corey Crawford to turn into the Corey Crawford we saw last year in the playoffs. The only problem is that Crawford is actually playing the same if not better than last year.
It’s hard to believe that with all the criticism Crawford is getting so far this postseason that most of his stats are actually better than last year’s Conn Smythe deserving performance. Crawford’s save percentage this postseason is .933. Even though that is less than a percent higher than last year, that doesn’t warrant the need for such harsh criticism by the Chicago faithful. Crawford has already matched the amount of shutouts he had last year, and he is on track to make more saves this postseason.
The negative side is that his goals against average has increased from 1.84 to 1.90. It is a very miniscule difference, but the amount of criticism that has come from his “lack of performance” is absurd given the actual statistics of Crawford’s postseason.
Another difference in this Blackhawks team is the absence of Andrew Shaw, and Bryan Bickell filling his role. Shaw has been out since Game 1 of the series against the Minnesota Wild. Bickell has done well being a presence in front of the net getting rebounds and screening goaltenders Ilya Bryzgalov of the Wild and Jonathan Quick of the Kings. The way Bickell plays reminds me of how now Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien became a playoff hero in Chicago back in 2010. Both are big, burly players that give hits and score goals in front of the net. With Andrew Shaw out, Bickell is forced to stand in front of the net and make his living as Shaw and Byfuglien did.
Last year, Bickell had some goals in front of the net, but he also had a few off of some powerful shots from the slot and the point, something that you don’t see every day from a player of his stature.
The Hawks have many of the same faces, but with different identities this year. They played Game 1 with the devotion and desire to take the series. If the Hawks continue with this identity as a team and keep playing the way they are now, this series could have the same result as last year’s. Keep playing that “Chelsea Dagger“, Chicago.