The Biggest Surprises for Chicago Blackhawks in 2014 NHL Playoffs
The Chicago Blackhawks are ready to move onto the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
After finishing off the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the series Sunday, the Blackhawks have had time to rest, recover and prepare for their next opponent (either the Minnesota Wild of Colorado Avalanche).
The first round saw Joel Quenneville's team come back from an 0-2 deficit following two overtime losses in St. Louis. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were key players in the winning effort—no surprise to any hockey fans—and Corey Crawford played quite well after an ordinary start.
There weren't a lot of huge surprises in the opening round, but there were several worth mentioning.
Blackhawks Handle Ryan Miller with Relative Ease
The Chicago Blackhawks are loaded with superstars who can fill the net. However, when St. Louis acquired goaltender Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres prior to the trade deadline, it appeared the Blues would become much tougher to score against in clutch situations.
Nobody expected Miller to shut down the Blackhawks completely, but it seemed likely the series would be somewhat low scoring and that goaltending might take over at some point.
The Blackhawks had no trouble scoring against Miller. They scored 20 goals against the St. Louis goalie and Miller had an ordinary 2.70 goals-against average, along with an .897 save percentage.
The fact that the Hawks won the battle so decisively against Miller is somewhat surprising.
Ben Smith Stands Up
Ben Smith was not one of the Blackhawks' statistical leaders during their opening-round victory, but he made a key contribution with his work ethic and competitiveness.
Smith scored a goal and an assist in the series, but he held his own while playing on a line with Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. He went into the corners, battled hard for the puck and came away with it most of the time.
Smith averaged 15:09 of ice time throughout the series and head coach Joel Quenneville was not afraid to have him on the ice in many crucial situations. Smith averaged 12:44 per game during the regular season.
Smith's lone goal of the series was a top-shelf backhander that gave the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead late in the second period on the road in Game 5. Smith had a number of other outstanding opportunities, but he couldn't get the puck by Ryan Miller until that shot.
Smith's contribution was a big factor in the series win and quite surprising.
Sheldon Brookbank Fills in for Seabrook
Brent Seabrook appeared to put the Blackhawks in a deep hole, when he drove St. Louis forward David Backes into the boards in Game 2.
The hit resulted in a three-game suspension and his team easily could have gone into a tailspin without him. Instead, Sheldon Brookbank stepped in admirably for Seabrook.
Quenneville paired Brookbank with top-defenseman Duncan Keith and the pair played quite well, as the Blackhawks won all three games during Seabrook's ban.
Brookbank was physical, sound defensively and made offensive contributions as well. He finished with two assists in three games and a plus-two rating.
That's quite a surprising showing for an extra defenseman who played in only 48 games during the regular season.
Sharp's Dry Spell Ends in Game 6
At the start of the series, it looked like Patrick Sharp was going to have to be a key contributor for the Blackhawks to survive and advance.
Patrick Kane (lower body) and Jonathan Toews (upper body) were just coming back from injuries, and there were no guarantees that they would be in top form.
Sharp led the team in scoring during the regular season with 34 goals and 44 assists, and the Blackhawks needed him to put his vicious shot in the net.
Through the first five games of the series, though, Sharp was without a goal. His frustration ended when he scored on a breakaway in the third period of the sixth and final game.
It's surprising, however, that the Blackhawks found a way to thrive without Sharp contributing very much on the scoresheet.
Corey Crawford Picks Up His Play
When the Blackhawks fell behind 2-0 in this series, the heat was on Corey Crawford.
He had been up and down in the regular season and had given up overtime goals in back-to-back games. The second of those OT losses was quite horrendous, as he let a relatively easy shot from St. Louis defenseman Barret Jackman sneak under his pads.
Crawford called himself out after that goal and Quenneville concurred with his goalie's assessment: He needed to get better.
Crawford was razor sharp the rest of the way. He backstopped the Blackhawks to their four consecutive victories and concluded the series with a 1.98 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
While Crawford has shown that he can come through in the postseason before, his dramatic turnaround in this series is somewhat surprising.