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Crawford and penalty kill pave the way for Blackhawks in Game 6 and series

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“Really frustrating being up and losing the lead two games in a row in the last couple minutes. That’s pretty much not acceptable. We’re not going to win if I’m going to play like that. Just got to be better.” Corey Crawford said after Game 2.

“He said he needs to be better, and he needs to be better,” Joel Quenneville said the day after Game 2.

That was the scene for Crawford after he allowed an overtime game winner that squirted through his legs. It was a soft goal and put the Blackhawks in a hole.

You can talk the talk but you better be able to walk the walk. That’s exactly what Crawford did in Game 6. The only goal that Crawford allowed in Game 6 was in the first period when T.J. Oshie beat him point blank with a beauty.

However, it was what Crawford did in the second period that showed why the Blackhawks have so much trust in him. He was stellar in the goal as he made 17 saves as the Blues completely tilted the ice in their favor. Crawford made a glove save to knock away a sure goal on a loose puck and stopped David Backes point blank. These were just a few of the saves that he made in a stellar performance that saw him make 35 saves on 36 shots including 11 on the penalty kill.

This was a continued performance of great play from Crawford who answered the bell in Game 3 with a 34 save shutout. He may have not had the best Game 4 but he still made 30 saves. In Game 5, Crawford was again great as he made 27 saves on 29 shots. His best saves came late in the third period and overtime where he made several great glove saves and a great pad save seconds before the game winner.

It was Crawford who called himself out and had a heart to heart with Quenneville after Game 2. From Quenneville to Toews, they showed faith in Crawford. Even after his amazing run last playoffs, Crawford again finds ways to answer critics with his leadership and superb play. Crawford outplayed Miller in the final four games of this series.

The other difference in the series was the penalty killing. This was not the most disciplined series for the Blackhawks. They were shorthanded 29 times this series. But the Blackhawks showed why they have one of the best penalty killing units as they were 27 of 29 on the penalty kill (93.1 percent).

All hands were on deck on the penalty kill for the Blackhawks in Game 6. Only seven players didn’t see time shorthanded for the Blackhawks. Marcus Kruger, Toews and Marian Hossa all took penalties. Those are three of the top four penalty killing forwards for the Blackhawks. Michal Handzus was sensational during the series as he recorded 14 blocked shots which are most among forwards in the NHL.

With many penalty killers in the box, Ben Smith was huge in Game 6 as he logged 4:44 of ice time shorthanded. Handzus led all skaters in the game with 6:39 shorthanded. Remember the Blackhawks only gave up one goal on a 5 on 4 as the other power play goal was with the Blues goalie pulled after Brent Seabrook was thrown out of the game in Game 2. The Blackhawks killed off their last nine penalties in the series as they were perfect in Games 5 and 6.

There were several games where the Blackhawks had to rely on their penalty kill as they were shorthanded 15 times in Games 2 and 6. Going forward the Blackhawks will have to be more disciplined. Quenneville stresses discipline and the best penalty kill is when you don’t have to play shorthanded which was a strong suit of the Blackhawks last season.

Game 6 was a continuation of things going good for the Blackhawks. Crawford had his best performance of the series as he made 27 saves in the first two periods and 17 when he was under siege in the second. The penalty killing was great and limited the Blues chances. Smith and Handzus each had three blocked shots and played heavy minutes with the top forwards in the penalty box.

The Blackhawks are heading to the Central Division Final because of their goaltending and penalty killing. Crawford raised his game making 126 saves on 132 shots in the final four games with one shutout. For the series, Crawford made 201 saves on 215 shots compiling a .935 save percentage. The penalty killing was great and clutch in the final four games with the Blackhawks down 2-0. In Games 3-6, the Blackhawks were 15 of 16 on the penalty kill.

"I think both our PK and [Crawford] won the series ultimately," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think that was a big factor in us getting through this series."

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