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Where there’s a (penalty) kill, there’s a way for Blackhawks

Updated: April 27, 2014 11:00PM



As the Blackhawks’ penalties mounted against the Blues on Sunday, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before they got burned.

With Jonathan Toews in the penalty box for high- sticking early in the second period, it looked like the Hawks were going to pay the price when the puck slid behind Corey Crawford toward the goal line. Crawford reached back to knock it away with his glove — and watched as the puck tantalizingly slid along the goal line almost from post to post. And out.

A little good fortune doesn’t hurt, but the Hawks mostly were outstanding in killing six penalties that threatened to turn Game 6 into a disaster. Five of them came with the game tied 1-1, and four of them put key penalty-killers in the box: Marcus Kruger twice, Toews and Marian Hossa. In all, the Hawks killed 10 minutes with a man disadvantage.

Crawford made 17 of his 35 saves and Michal Handzus, Ben Smith and Kruger each had two of the Hawks’ 20 blocked shots on the penalty kill.

“Our guys — great kills,” Crawford said. “Some big blocked shots. Our defensemen were great again on the kill and clearing pucks away and taking the right shooting lanes away from them. It was the key to the game.”

The Hawks have a postseason habit of playing with fire. But they are adept at dealing with it, and the 5-1 victory at the United Center that clinched the Western Conference first-round series 4-2 was another perfect example. They were spending so much time killing penalties, it’s almost as if they got into a rhythm and started to build momentum with each kill. When they finally got a power play of their own, Jonathan Toews scored 44 seconds into the third period for a 2-1 lead.

“We obviously don’t want to take that many penalties, and we gotta be smart,” said defenseman Duncan Keith, who logged the second-most short-handed ice time (6:26) behind Handzus (6:39). “But at the same time, it gave us some momentum once we did kill them off. We don’t want to have to do that every game, though.”

It was a team effort, but Crawford’s role can’t be overstated. Crawford struggled early in the series but was much better at the end. And that’s just what the Hawks needed. The Blues had the seventh best power play in the regular season (19.8 percent). But they were 2 of 29 (6.8 percent) in this series.

“I think both our PK and Crow won the series, ultimately,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had six straight penalties against us. Getting through that and scoring on our power play was obviously huge.

“[Crawford] was tremendous. Responded in Game 3. Delivered. Strong in Game 5 win. Outstanding [Sunday]. Just seemed quick, moved well. Sharp, square, efficient. He looked like he was in control.”

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkPotash



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