The Chicago Blackhawks proved during the first three games of their Stanley Cup playoff series, including Saturday’s 2-1 loss in Game 3, that they are good enough to stay close to the Vegas Golden Knights, but not good enough to beat them. However, they avoided a four-game sweep with a 3-1 win in Game 4 Sunday night thanks to a lucky bounce and an unreal performance from their star goaltender.
Crawford Steals the Show
Heading into this series, most people agreed that goaltender Corey Crawford would have to steal a couple of games in order for the Blackhawks to have a chance. He started both games over the weekend, on Saturday and Sunday, and performed very well. He was the hard-luck loser on Saturday, making 24 saves in a 2-1 loss where he was outperformed by Vegas netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.
Sunday night’s 3-1 win was one of Crawford’s best playoff games of his entire career. He made 48 saves in the victory, the most he’s ever made in a playoff game that ended in regulation. The only goal he gave up came 18 seconds after Matthew Highmore put the Blackhawks up 2-0 by banking a shot off of Robin Lehner’s head. Crawford had no chance to stop Shea Theodore’s shot from the point with multiple bodies in front of him.
“He was outstanding,” Highmore said of Crawford after the game. “He made countless saves, whether it be rebound chances, slot shots, backdoor. He was great for us, just settling us down back there. He was just fantastic. That’s what a good goalie does, and he certainly is that.”
Crawford is now 14-5 in elimination games during his playoff career. According to NHL public relations, the 48 saves are the third-most by a Blackhawks netminder when his team is facing elimination. Tony Esposito made 52 saves in a 6-4 win over the Boston Bruins on April 11, 1975. He also stopped 49 shots in a 5-4 loss to the Bruins on April 26, 1970.
Keith Climbs the Assist Ladder
Highmore showed that there is no such thing as a bad shot in the postseason. He scored the eventual game-winning goal, at 13:40 of the opening period, by scoring off of Lehner’s head from the just below the goal line.
Duncan Keith had the primary assist of the play for his 68th career postseason helper, which is the fifth most in Blackhawks’ team history. Stan Mikita has the most all-time with 91. Denis Savard is second with 84. Keith’s teammates Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are just ahead of him with 80 and 74 assists, respectively.
DeBrincat Finally Gets One
Alex DeBrincat has been snake bitten all season long. We have seen this happen in the past, where a player known for scoring goals does everything right except for lightning the lamp. It happed to Marian Hossa. It happed to Brandon Saad.
DeBrincat scored 41 goals last season, with an 18.6 shooting percentage (S%). While it was easy to predict that he could not keep scoring at that pace, his S% dropped to just 8.7 during the 2019-20 season. He scored 23 fewer goals even though his shots on goal per game average increased from 2.6 to 2.9.
The frustrated youngster came into Sunday’s game still looking for his first playoff goal despite having 19 shots, second only to Kane. He finally got the monkey off his back with an empty-net goal in the final seconds. Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty was fined $2,500 for this healthy slash on the play.
The Blackhawks are hoping this will lead to a couple of goals with the goaltender on the ice. They will need DeBrincat to get hot if they want any chance of extending this series past five games.
Decisions Made on Chalupa & Shea
While we still have at least one more game remaining before the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup playoff run is over, we can focus on a couple of decisions geared toward the future.
First, the Blackhawks have loaned Matej Chalupa to Mountfield KH of the Czech Extraliga, the top professional league in the Czech Republic.
Chalupa (the C is silent, sorry Taco Bell fans) signed a two-year contract with the Blackhawks back in May, worth $925,000 per season. This is the same league he’s played in for the last two and a half seasons. He scored seven goals and 24 points in 50 games for HK Hradec Kralove in 2019-20.
This is a move that NHL teams have been doing with their European prospects since the 2020-21 season will start on time overseas. You can expect Chalupa to return to Chicago when the NHL training camps open, hopefully, in early December.
In other prospect news, according to Brandon Cain of NHL.com, the Blackhawks did not sign defenseman Ryan Shea. Saturday was the deadline to sign draft picks who have finished their college careers.
Shea was drafted by the Blackhawks in the fourth round (121st overall) of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. He played four seasons at Northeastern University, including two as a teammate of Dylan Sikura. He scored 10 goals and 78 points, with a plus-55 rating, in 149 career NCAA games. He is now an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team who makes an offer.
There is plenty of time this fall to discuss the future of the Blackhawks and their prospects. For now, we have at least one more playoff game on our hands. Tuesday night’s Game 5 is scheduled to start at 9:30 pm CDT, so make sure you sneak in that afternoon nap.