It’s only going to get tougher from here for the Blackhawks.
The Hawks hardly played their best hockey in eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the first round.
They won because of better goaltending from Corey Crawford, perfect penalty killing (17-for-17) and their best players outplayed the Wild’s best players, led by Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane.
Now they’ll need to step up their game considerably.
“We still have to get a different type of pace to our game that’s catching up to the other series that are being played and what the playoffs are all about,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s not the regular season. There’s another appetite that we have to get as well. I don’t think we should be happy with where we’re at with our play, and let’s get angry as we go along here.
“I still think we have to be better. I’m not doing cartwheels the last two games. I still think there’s another level we’ve got to get to.”
Crawford was magnificent in the first round with both coaches agreeing he was the difference.
“He was rock solid this whole series,” Quenneville said.
“Their goalie was excellent,” said Minnesota coach Mike Yeo. “He was outstanding all series long. There’s a reason why they had the season they did.”
Crawford was so good in Thursday’s 5-1 victory in Game 5 that the fans in the United Center were chanting “Cor-ey, Cor-ey” after a few of his saves.
And the fans don’t do that for just anybody. Tony Esposito and Eddie Belfour were two of the goalies from the past that got similar treatment.
“Twenty-two thousand people chanting that?” Crawford said. “Maybe caught a couple seconds of it.”
Crawford was kidding, of course, but his teammates appreciated what the fans did.
“That was nice to hear because he’s worked so hard and he deserves that,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s good to see him playing with so much confidence. We know we can be even better in front of him, and that he’s going to keep bringing that game time and time again.”
It was Crawford’s first playoff series win after two first-round exits. Last spring against Phoenix, Crawford was criticized for allowing a pair of soft goals in overtime in Games 3 and 4.
“I’m not the only guy in the league that’s given up soft goals in the playoffs,” Crawford said.
“When a team gets knocked out early there are always fingers pointed at somebody,” Sharp said. “Crow’s been solid for us since he joined the team and I think it was a little unfair for some of the criticism he got. He’s one of the most underrated goalies in the league, in my opinion. It’s a good feeling knowing you’ve got a rock in the net back there.”
Sharp had 5 goals and an assist in the series, and answered those who questioned if he’d be ready to contribute after missing so many games down the stretch with a left shoulder injury.
“It’s always nice to score,” Sharp said. “I felt I got better as the series went on as far as making plays with the puck and raising my level away from the puck. The goals are going to come when you least expect them. They seem to be going in right now, and hopefully I can keep riding that.”
Thanks to a 3-point game on Thursday, Hossa had 3 goals and 3 assists in the series. Kane contributed 5 assists.
Compare those numbers to Minnesota’s Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise, who combined for 1 goal in the series and were minus-13 together.
Not only did the Hawks kill all 17 Wild power plays in the series, they got 2 goals from Michael Frolik in Game 2 and another from Marcus Kruger on Thursday. Andrew Shaw also had a goal in Game 5 to go with 3 assists in the series.
“It definitely gives you a lot of confidence to see guys like Shaw and Kruger and (Brandon) Saad to get in on the offense,” Toews said. “We saw some big hits by (Bryan) Bickell and Shaw. It’s those guys that are making the difference for us.
“They make our team very dangerous, and whether it’s someone who is in the lineup one night and out the next night, everyone has got to step up when they have the chance. That’s what it’s going to take to keep moving forward here.”
Ÿ Follow Tim’s hockey reports on Twitter @TimSassone and check out his Between the Circles blog at dailyherald.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.