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Five Q’s: Blackhawks-Wild series preview

Apr 30, 2013, 11:25 AM EDT

Corey Crawford Getty Images

1. Is Corey Crawford a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie?

Most of the time, people don’t question a goalie tandem that just won the Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals during the regular season. But 28-year-old starter Corey Crawford is 0-for-2 in career playoff series and really struggled last season, so people are bound to question this one. Crawford, along with backup Ray Emery, combined to give the Blackhawks a .923 save percentage in 2013, the second highest in the NHL. There were a couple of hiccups in March, but April was solid again. If Crawford isn’t up to the challenge, it will be interesting to see how quickly Joel Quenneville is willing to switch to Emery. It’s been a while, but Emery did backstop the Senators to the finals in 2007. That “what if” scenario, of course, assumes Emery is healthy enough to play. He’s been ruled out for Game 1 with a lower-body injury.

2. Can the Blackhawks get the power play going?

This might’ve been a bigger issue if Chicago hadn’t been so dominant five-on-five this season. Even with the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, the ‘Hawks finished with the 19th-ranked power play, scoring on just 16.7 percent of their man-advantage opportunities. It’s a bit perplexing given all the top-end offensive talent they have, but the PP was a problem last year, too.

3. Will Dave Bolland be able to play? (And if he can, will he play well?)

Bolland missed the last three games of the regular season with a groin injury and has been ruled out for at least the first game against the Wild. The 26-year-old center has had a tough season, scoring just 14 points in 35 games despite opportunities to play with talented forwards. It appears the Blackhawks will enter the postseason with veteran Michal Handzus as their second-line center, which — no offense to Handzus — is hardly ideal. Bolland has proven himself in past playoffs and has 37 points in 49 games while playing well defensively and getting under the opponents’ skin. Chicago needs him to be that player again.

4. Can the Wild build on the last game of the season?

The pessimist may file this under “congratulations for not choking against a terrible team,” but Minnesota’s playoff-clinching victory Saturday in Colorado showed resolve, especially after Friday’s disaster against the Oilers. The Wild head into the playoffs with a 6-9-1 record in their last 16 games. Obviously, that’s not good. But head coach Mike Yeo — who may have been looking for a new job if the Wild hadn’t beaten the Avs — was feeling positive about his team after getting it done in Denver. “Let’s make it clear: We’re not done,” Yeo said. “We’re not going to sit on cloud nine and say this is a huge accomplishment. This is a step, a big step, a difficult step for us. Now that confidence is there.”

5. Can Ryan Suter shut down Chicago’s top guns?

OK, maybe “shut down” is unrealistic. How about “somewhat contain”? No NHL defenseman played more minutes than Suter did this season. The 28-year-old Norris Trophy candidate who (along with forward Zack Parise) signed for big money in the summer has so far been all his new team could ask for. Suter averaged 27:17 in ice time, scoring four goals and adding 28 assists. The rest of Minnesota’s defense will have to overachieve if the Wild have any hope of pulling an upset. Younsters Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin have zero playoff experience, so it’ll be up to Suter to lead the way.

For all the first-round playoff previews, click here.

  1. purpleguy - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM

    It’s pretty tough as a fan when your highest expectation and hope is to simply win a series game and keep the rest close, but unfortunately that’s this Wild fan’s position.

  2. hammerhead5573 - Apr 30, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Anyone can win on any night but over 7 games my guess is the hawks will outlast them. Also backing into the playoffs is not the most ideal situation such as minnesota did. We’ll see though

  3. buffalomafia - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:15 PM

    Usually a team like Chicago craps to bed in playoffs?!

    Get Ryan Miller in off season?!

    • hawksin5 - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      Ummm…no

    • suckit619 - Apr 30, 2013 at 8:12 PM

      You can keep Miller. Hawks will have a long run this year.

  4. lostpuppysyndrome - Apr 30, 2013 at 1:50 PM

    Should be an interesting series to watch. I love the Wild but don’t expect them to win, not that it couldn’t happen. I’m more curious to see how all the new pieces in the lineup do in the playoffs. Playoff hockey is so different from the regular season, and you see what certain players are truly made of, and what kind of attitude they bring when it counts. Despite the huge loss to Edmonton last week, one can’t blame the team since they outshot the Oilers by a wide margin. As long as goaltending holds up and the D plays reasonably well and keeps turnovers to a minimum, the Wild might have a better chance than we expect.

  5. comeonnowguys - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    Is Corey Crawford a Stanley Cup-caliber goalie?

    Replace “Corey Crawford” with “Antti Niemi” and you have the question asked of Chicago from January to June 9, 2010.

  6. ryanoffski - Apr 30, 2013 at 2:42 PM

    My prediction: Blackhawks take Wild in 5

  7. buffalomafia - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:41 PM

    Blackhawks in 6

  8. jgreen1516 - Apr 30, 2013 at 3:53 PM

    Wild in 4

    • suckit619 - Apr 30, 2013 at 8:08 PM

      The Wild couldn’t beat anybody in the league 4 times in a row, let alone the Blackhawks

  9. blastardo - Apr 30, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    Crawford is Stanley Cup calibre. Not sure if Backstrom is though.

  10. joeyashwi - Apr 30, 2013 at 5:39 PM

    I love the Wild but Yeo burned Backstrom out by not giving him rest during the season. Hawks in 6.

  11. suckit619 - Apr 30, 2013 at 8:09 PM

    Hawks in 5. They won’t even need Emery or Bolland to start a game

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