Saturday, May 17, 2014

Goaltender matchup: Inside Quick vs. Crawford

Goaltending plays an integral part in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With the competition intense and so even, the men protecting each goal often are the difference in a series. broke down the compelling Western Conference Final between 2012 Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and defending Cup champion Corey Crawford of the Chicago Blackhawks .

Much like many goaltending coaches will do before a playoff series, correspondent Kevin Woodley, the managing editor of InGoal Magazine, used the 360 Save Review System software from Double Blue Sports Analytics to chart every goal scored against each goalie in this matchup this season and came to some interesting conclusions about their strengths and weaknesses.

Jonathan Quick , Los Angeles Kings


Jonathan Quick

Goalie - LAK


GAA: 2.72 | SVP: 0.914

Quick is one of the fastest goalies in the NHL, which is good because he's also the most aggressive and needs that explosive mobility to cover off his positioning. He not only plays rush chances several feet above his crease but gets well outside the blue ice during end-zone play. He makes it work because of incredible lateral mobility, whether on his skates or knees, and great defensive support. As we saw against the San Jose Sharks early in the Western Conference First Round, without that stingy defense, playing to such extremes can be exploited.

When he's on -- Some goalies are at their best playing a quiet game, but Quick is always moving. When he's locked in, the movements remain controlled, even when he's down, sliding back and forth with his torso slightly upright and his hands able to activate on the fly.

When he's off -- You can usually spot bad games when Quick is reaching a lot and commits to the splits as a desperation save rather than staying over his knees, something we saw while losing the first three games against the Sharks.


It's no surprise most of the goals allowed by Quick involve lateral plays, not only because plays which force movement lead to lower save percentages in general, but because Quick moves more as a result of aggressive positioning.

Almost two-thirds of his 100 regular-season goals at even strength, and nearly half on the power play, involved movement, and a majority were finished by one-timers or quick shots, whether on a cross-ice pass or rebound. Those trends have continued in the playoffs, with Quick often caught scrambling to recover from early aggression.

This showed up in the number of goals along the ice doubling on each side in the postseason, with four on the blocker side and four on the glove side matching what he gave up that low all season. Easy tap-ins like that are a sign of being caught too far out of position.

Elevation a must -- Unlike most goalies who barely manage to get a pad across in desperation moments, Quick usually stacks his vertical coverage with the glove or blocker arm atop the pad. He rarely throws himself across blindly, tracking the puck and maintaining mobility through his torso even while doing the splits in a lateral slide. So it's important to elevate quick shots because anything low gives him a chance to combine his explosive pushes with a Gumby flexibility to turn what looks like a sure goal into a momentum-changing save.

Sell the fake -- Given his aggressive nature, selling a fake shot from up high to draw Quick out before making a lateral pass can buy time. The Anaheim Ducks took advantage of a variation of this on the power play a couple of times, with open players at the side of the net throwing the puck back up into the middle or cross ice rather than trying to stuff it through Quick as he challenged them down low in tight.

Odd-man high -- Almost one-third of the even-strength goals in the regular season were off the rush (20), but instead of typical passes in tight on odd-man opportunities, crisp passes high in the zone work because his aggressive positioning leaves more distance to cover laterally, which can expose him to one-time goals into the far side of the net. The Sharks continued this trend in the first round.

Make him smaller – In the regular season, about one-third of even-strength goals against Quick included screens (9) or deflections (11), which can push him deeper in the crease than he'd prefer. Eighteen goals came after low-high passes from below the goal line, forcing him to push off the post to the top of the blue ice. Quick gets there faster than most, but it increases the chances of catching him moving.

Sharp angle attack back -- Quick's post play is normally the envy of many NHL goalies, including a technique copied widely after his Cup win. He moves on and off his posts seamlessly and gave up five dead-angle goals all season, but was burned four times on sharp-angle attacks by the Ducks in the second round.

Corey Crawford , Chicago Blackhawks


Corey Crawford

Goalie - CHI


GAA: 1.97 | SVP: 0.931

Respect for Corey Crawford has been slow to come from some quarters despite the fact he won the Stanley Cup last season and has the Blackhawks back in the Western Conference Final. But Crawford has found a nice balance between the more technical, blocking foundation which defined him coming into the NHL and the more reactionary athleticism which he tried too hard at times to show off during his second full season.

When he's on -- At his best, Crawford is reacting from his skates, moving into shots in straight lines with his feet and hands, starting near the edges of his crease and holding his ground.

When he's off -- Crawford reacts from his knees more, defaulting down to more of a blocking butterfly then reacting out to perimeter shots with his legs and up with his hands.


The glove-side numbers will draw the most attention given how much was made of Crawford's glove hand during last year's playoffs. It's natural with 44 percent of goals (68 of 154) going in mid- and high-glove compared to 28 percent (43 goals) on the blocker side. What these numbers don't include is Crawford's save percentage on either side, which would provide a better indication of how efficient his glove is and whether opponents are targeting it.

Pulling off mid-net shots -- Regardless of whether it's targeted, when Crawford defaults down to more of a blocking butterfly before reacting back up with the hands, there is a delay and a tendency to pull his torso slightly off shots just off his hips, actually turning out of the save space at times. He's not the only NHL goalie who does it, and he doesn't do it all the time, but it played a role in some of the 74 goals he’s given up in the middle of the net on either side; 16 of 26 playoff goals have gone in mid-net too.

Bigger five-hole -- Crawford prefers straight pads because they used to close in a "V" in front of him when he dropped into the butterfly, trapping any pucks he couldn't completely control on body saves. But he admitted last summer it might not be as effective after offseason reductions in pad height. With 20 goals through the five-hole in the regular season and three of 14 through his legs in the Western Conference First Round against the St. Louis Blues, that might be the case, though he kept it closed against the Minnesota Wild.

Straight drops -- Some goalies push laterally into shots from farther out, a habit with positives and negatives, but Crawford is more of a straight dropper, making small adjustments and shifts and/or leaning his torso behind shots to control rebounds. He rarely slides into saves, and though there are lots of positives to this practice, like not opening up holes by moving too much, it can create backdoor-pass options which strand Crawford atop the crease on the initial shooter.

Late into post play -- Whereas some goalies will execute post-seal tactics that put them on their knees and up against the iron while the play is still behind the net to eliminate the chance of getting caught in the transition down, Crawford tends to wait until there is an attack threat. As a result, there are times when he gets caught low, including the goal that tied Game 1 against the Blues with 1:15 left, and again on a harmless play from behind the net against the Wild.

Shoot from anywhere -- The zone chart shows the entire season, but in the playoffs Crawford has given up 11 of 26 from outside the home plate area used to roughly define the quality of scoring chances.

Game 1: Rangers 7, Canadiens 2 … in pictures

Rick Carpiniello, 26, was born and raised in Harrison and began working in The Journal News' sports department (back when it was The Reporter Dispatch and eight other newspapers) in October of 1977 after a year of covering high school sports as a stringer. For more than 20 years he covered the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League. Carpiniello has been writing columns on everything from local sports to the big leagues since 2002. Copyright 2014 | Use of this site signifies your agreement to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, updated September 2010.

Rout by Rangers brings Canadiens back to earth

MONTREAL -- It is a mantra repeated in locker rooms around the NHL throughout the season. Whether a team has won three straight games or lost five in a row, every team is always trying to find the same equilibrium, and they all use the same terms to describe it.

Never too high. Never too low.

The Montreal Canadiens entered the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers coming off a massive high, beating the archrival Boston Bruins in their building in Game 7 to earn the right to play the game they played Saturday afternoon.

The Canadiens, it would appear, were a little too high.

The Rangers were the sharper team right from the drop of the puck and were rewarded for it in a 7-2 blowout win in Game 1 of the series at Bell Centre, stealing the home-ice advantage from the Canadiens.

"You never want to lose a game, but it's going to bring us back to earth," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "We, as a group, have to be ready to compete and play every night if we want to have a chance to win.

"So we put that game behind us, we've got to move forward, but that's a good lesson."

A team that is among the final four remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs probably shouldn't need to learn that lesson, not at this stage, not when the stakes are so high. Canadiens players openly admitted they simply were not ready to play. But the reasons given were varied.

Much was made about the need for Montreal to maintain its level of emotion coming off the series against Boston. However, defenseman P.K. Subban said he did not see that as a reason his team came out so flat.

"I know that everybody's going to talk about that," Subban said, "but we're professionals, we don't see it that way."

Except his teammates did, in fact, see it that way.

"The rivalry is maybe not as big as Boston," center David Desharnais said. "Now it's on, I guess."

Forward Rene Bourque said, "I think we had a bit of emotional letdown after the Boston series. We talked about that going into the game. Obviously it didn't click."

The Canadiens were asked about the threat of that emotional letdown after practice Friday, and they acknowledged they were aware of it and needed to guard against it.

The Rangers came into Game 1 of the series on an emotional high as well, coming back from 3-1 down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in their building in Game 7. However, New York showed no signs of a letdown.

So maybe in this instance it was a convenient excuse for the Canadiens to say they had trouble maintaining their intensity, that the Rangers didn't stoke their fire enough.

Bourque, whose fingerprints were all over this game with three minor penalties and the goal that made it a 2-1 at 12:38 of the second, was far more blunt in describing how the Canadiens played when he wasn't trying to find an excuse for it.

"We got our [butts] kicked all over the ice," Bourque said.

"That was our worst game of the playoffs by far," he added. "That wasn't even close. They just beat us everywhere on the ice, every zone, and we took too many penalties. Obviously, I took a couple bad ones in the first [period]. We just never got rolling. We just weren't sharp and weren't ready to play. We'll be ready Monday night (for Game 2, 8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS)."

The fact is, none of the Canadiens know exactly why they didn't compete with the Rangers in Game 1, and at this point it doesn't matter.

Bourque and Desharnais appeared bothered by Montreal's performance; Subban didn't. That's not to say Subban was pleased with the performance, he just didn't appear to be taking it very seriously.

Subban was comfortable in the knowledge the Canadiens made mistakes they normally don't make, took penalties they normally don't take, and showed an uncharacteristic lack of focus and energy.

The Canadiens face their biggest game of the season in Game 2, when they will try to avoid having to go to Madison Square Garden in New York down 2-0 in the best-of-7 series.

"That's not our hockey team that played today," Subban said. "We know we're a different team than that and we can be a lot better."

Never too high. Never too low.

The Canadiens were way too high, now they need to guard against being too low. Adopting the attitude of their top skater in these playoffs would probably help them do that.

"These things happen," Subban said. "They happen in the playoffs."

They can't let them happen again.

Lundqvist earns first win in Montreal in five years

MONTREAL -- New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist skated onto the Bell Centre's frozen stage Saturday for the first time in more than two years with a bleak history to his credit in the Montreal Canadiens' raucous arena.

Lundqvist entered Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final with a 4-5-2 record, a 3.87 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in Montreal. But the Rangers' 7-2 win consigned those bad numbers to the history books.

"I'm going to be honest with you, I felt good coming into the game and, yeah, you guys like to talk about it, you like to ask me about it," said Lundqvist, who made 20 saves in his first start in Montreal since Jan. 14, 2012. "I haven't played here in a while, but it's still the same game. Last time I played here, we had a different team, and I think I've grown as a goalie as well."

New York's seven goals were the most in the opening game of a conference final since May 16, 1992, when the Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 8-2.

"It wasn't 7-2 the whole game, it was closer than that," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "When we needed a save, he made some big ones."

Rookie Cam Talbot started the Rangers' two regular-season games in Montreal, including a 1-0 overtime loss in the final game of the season April 12. Talbot's first NHL shutout was a 1-0 win against the Canadiens on Nov. 16 that snapped an 0-7-1 skid for the Rangers at Bell Centre.

A backup in New York's four previous games at Bell Centre, Lundqvist hadn't won in the Canadiens' home building since March 17, 2009. In his four previous appearances in Montreal since winning, Lundqvist was 0-3-1 with an .862 save percentage and 4.63 GAA.

"Every time you play the game you have to show yourself and your teammates that you can play. So, yeah, we got a great start here and a good win, but it's about doing it again in the next one," Lundqvist said. "But obviously we haven't won that many games in this building, so it's good to get a great start and know that we when we pay attention to all the details that we can get the result we want."

Lundqvist ranks first in the NHL with nine wins in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs and is tied for second with a 1.99 GAA and .929 save percentage.

"I don't know if you've seen him play the last few weeks, but he's been on a different planet, so we had all the confidence in the world in him and I think he's pretty confident in his game right now," Rangers forward Brian Boyle said. "That stuff's all in the past any way. I think you guys make a bigger deal out of it than it is. For us, that's ancient history, really it is, it's a number of years ago and he's world-class. Just look at him, he's been playing fantastic for us. It's unbelievable some of the saves he's made, even this afternoon."

The five-goal margin of victory was the Rangers' largest against the Canadiens in the postseason; the previous playoff high was three.

Lundqvist likened the Canadiens to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who the Rangers came back to defeat in seven games after trailing the Eastern Conference Second Round series 3-1.

"We didn't allow them to get that game going," Lundqvist said. "That's the biggest part of their game, is the transition game, so when you can take that away from them you have a lot bigger chance of winning the game I think because sometimes it feels like that team is so fast and it all depends on whether you're getting pucks deep or not."

Prior to Saturday, the Canadiens were the most-recent team to lose Game 1 of the conference finals by at least five goals, 6-0 to the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.

"Our guys know that we're up against a really good team that have beaten the best team right now in the NHL, so we know we've got our hands full," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said.

"Tonight in the second period, the difference was our goaltender. He made some big saves and they were able to pull in from one and you can see that they were pushing, and then when you score a few goals late in the period, we just got a little bit fortunate there and took it home in the third."

Game 1: Rangers 7, Canadiens 2 … post-game notes

Post-game notes courtesy of the NYR:

Game 1: Rangers 7, Canadiens 2.

Click here for boxscore.

Team notes:
– The Rangers defeated the Montreal Canadiens, 7-2, today in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Bell Centre. The Rangers lead the best-of-seven series, 1-0. – The Blueshirts have a 9-6 record in the playoffs, including a 5-3 record on the road. – New York tallied seven goals in a playoff game for the first time since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 17, 2007 vs. Atlanta (7-0 victory). The last time the Blueshirts recorded at least seven goals in a playoff game on the road was Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on May 8, 1995 at Quebec (8-3 victory).

– The Rangers have won four consecutive playoff games, including three straight playoff games on the road. New York has recorded four straight playoff victories for the first time since its four-game sweep against Atlanta in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 2007. The last time the Blueshirts won three straight playoff games on the road was from Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 9, 2008 to Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 18, 2008 against New Jersey. – New York has opened a playoff series with a road win for the second time this year. The last time the Rangers won two Game 1s on the road in one playoff year was 1986 (Patrick Division Semifinals against Philadelphia and Patrick Division Finals against Washington). The Blueshirts have won five of the last seven playoff series in which they won Game 1 on the road. The Rangers have posted a 34-12 all-time playoff series record when they have won Game 1. – The Rangers have won five consecutive playoff games against the Canadiens, including four straight against the Canadiens in Montreal, dating back to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 21, 1996. Each winning streak is the longest the Rangers have had against the Canadiens in postseason play in franchise history. – The Blueshirts’ seven goals were the most they have scored in one playoff game against the Canadiens in franchise history. New York had scored six goals against Montreal on two previous occasions in the playoffs (Game 4 of the Quarterfinals at Montreal on Apr. 9, 1972, 6-4 victory; and Game 4 of the Quarterfinals on Apr. 14, 1974 at MSG, 6-4 victory). – The Rangers’ five-goal victory was the largest margin victory they have had in a playoff game against the Canadiens in franchise history. Prior to the contest, the Blueshirts’ largest margin of victory against Montreal in the playoffs was three. – Seven different Rangers tallied a goal and 11 different Rangers recorded a point in the contest. Seven different Rangers registered at least two points in the game. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time seven different Rangers recorded a goal in a playoff contest was Game 3 of the Patrick Division Semifinals on Apr. 9, 1983 vs. Philadelphia. – New York is 8-2 in the postseason when tallying the first goal of the contest, and has won each of its last seven playoff games when scoring first. Including the regular season, the Rangers have won 39 of 48 games when recording the game’s first goal this year. – The Rangers improved to 7-0 in the playoffs when leading after two periods. The Blueshirts have won 35 out of 38 regular season and playoff games this year when leading after the second period. – The Blueshirts tallied two goals in a 25-second span in the contest (Derek Stepan at 4:11 of the third period, Rick Nash 4:36 of the third period). New York has tallied two goals in less than a minute on two occasions over the last four games (Game 5 at Pittsburgh; Derick Brassard at 7:58 of the second period, Ryan McDonagh at 8:48 of the second period). New York also tallied three goals in a span of 2:29 in the game (Chris Kreider at 18:59 of the second period, Brad Richards at 19:48 of the second period, and Ryan McDonagh at 1:28 of the third period). According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last time the Rangers registered three goals in a span of 2:27 or less in a playoff game was their last postseason game against Montreal prior to today, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals on Apr. 28, 1996 (three goals in a span of 1:02 in the first period). – The Rangers were 3-for-7 on the power play (10:47) in the contest. The last time the Blueshirts tallied three goals in a playoff game was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 6, 2007 vs. Buffalo. New York registered three power play goals in a playoff game on the road for the first time since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on May 21, 1995 at Philadelphia. New York is 6-for-18 (33.3%) on the power play over the last four games.

Player notes:

– Henrik Lundqvist made 20 saves to record his ninth win of the playoffs, and his 39th career win in postseason play. The Rangers goaltender improved to 9-6 in the playoffs this year, including a 5-3 mark on the road. Lundqvist has won each of his last four games, posting a 1.25 GAA and a .961 SV% over the span. The Rangers goaltender has allowed two goals or fewer in 12 out of 15 contests in the playoffs this year, including eight of the last nine games. Lundqvist is three wins shy of passing Mike Richter for first on the Rangers’ all-time playoff wins list. Lundqvist leads the NHL in wins (nine), is tied for second in GAA (1.99), and ranks second in SV% (.929) in the playoffs. – Ryan McDonagh tallied a power play goal, added three assists, and posted a plus-two rating in a team-high, 24:01 of ice time. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McDonagh is the first Rangers defenseman to record four points in a playoff game since Brian Leetch tallied four in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals on June 7, 1994 at Vancouver. McDonagh’s three assists and four points are both single-game playoff career-highs. The Rangers defenseman has tallied seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last five playoff games. McDonagh is tied for the team lead in power play goals (two) and power play points (four), and is tied for fourth on the team in assists (five) in the playoffs. McDonagh leads all defensemen on the team in goals (two) and points (seven), and is tied for first among defensemen on the team in assists (five) in the playoffs. – Mats Zuccarello registered a goal, added two assists, and posted a plus-two rating in 15:26 of ice time. The Rangers forward has posted two three-point efforts in his last four games, and has recorded seven points (two goals, five assists) in his last seven games. Zuccarello leads the team in assists (seven) and points (11), is tied for second on the team in goals (four), and ranks second on the team in plus/minus rating (plus-seven) in the playoffs. – Chris Kreider recorded the game-winning goal, added an assist, and tied for the game-high with four hits in 16:25 of ice time. The Rangers forward has tallied four points (two goals, two assists) in his last four games. Four of Kreider’s eight career playoff goals have been game-winning tallies. – Derek Stepan tallied a power play goal, added an assist, and recorded two shots on goal in 19:51 of ice time. The Rangers forward has a three-game assist/point streak (one goal, three assists over the span). Stepan is tied for the team lead in power play goals (two) and power play points (four), and is tied for fourth on the team in assists (five) and points (eight) in the playoffs. – Dominic Moore recorded two assists and posted a plus-two rating in 16:36 of ice time. Moore tied single-game playoff career-highs in assists (two) and points (two) in the contest. The Rangers forward has now tallied two assists in a playoff game twice in his career (May 4, 2011 vs. Washington as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning) and two points in a playoff game on five occasions, including twice in this year’s playoffs (Game 5 vs. Philadelphia on Apr. 27). Moore has recorded three points (three assists) in his last two games. – Martin St. Louis tallied the game’s first goal, added an assist, and recorded two shots on goal in 20:57 of ice time. The Rangers forward has a three-game point streak (two goals, two assists over the span). St. Louis is tied for second on the team in goals (four), assists (six), and points (10) in the playoffs this year. – Rick Nash recorded a power play goal, added an assist, and recorded two shots on goal in 16:20 of ice time. The Rangers forward is tied for second on the team in assists (six). Nash leads the team and the NHL in shots on goal (54) in the playoffs. – Brad Richards registered a goal and recorded four shots on goal in 18:37 of ice time. The Rangers forward has tallied goals in consecutive games, and has registered three points (two goals, one assist) in his last four games. Richards leads the team in goals (five), is tied for second on the team in points (10), and is tied for fourth on the team in assists (five) in the playoffs. Richards ranks second on the team and second in the NHL in shots on goal (51) in the playoffs. – Kevin Klein registered an assist, posted a plus-one rating, and was credited with four blocked shots in 14:26 of ice time. Klein has recorded three points (one goal, two assists) in his last four games. The Rangers defenseman leads the team and is tied for first in the NHL in plus/minus rating (plus-eight) in the playoffs. – Marc Staal tallied an assist and recorded two blocked shots in 18:05 of ice time. Staal ranks fifth on the team in plus/minus rating (plus-five) in the playoffs. – John Moore recorded an assist, posted a plus-one rating, and blocked three shots in 17:51 of ice time. The Rangers defenseman is tied for sixth on the team in plus/minus rating (plus-three) in the playoffs. – Dan Girardi posted a plus-two rating and was credited with a game-high, five blocked shots in 21:37 of ice time. The Rangers defenseman skated in his 79th career playoff game, tying Rod Gilbert for fifth on the team’s all-time playoff games played list. Girardi is tied for first in the NHL in blocked shots (40) in the playoffs.

Photo by Getty Images.

Wild's young stars developed through playoff run

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota Wild's season has been over for a few days but they were still coming to terms with how it ended when players emptied their lockers Friday.

Tied 1-1 in overtime with the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round, Patrick Kane scored the series-clinching goal after a dump-in attempt took a goofy hop off a stanchion behind the Wild net and landed on his stick. Just like that, Minnesota's season was over. Disappointing as the ending was, it was a successful year when the Wild's youngsters made major strides.

"We played some good hockey and it was a great series and it could have gone either way," forward Nino Niederreiter said. "But obviously it's a bitter end."

The Minnesota Wild's top prospects established themselves through their run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Photo: Bill Smith/NHLI)

One thing is for certain: The Wild took a step forward this season, with its prospects leading the way.

"I believe that there are a lot of positives," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "But I also am realistic that it's really hard [to keep improving]. And so we should look forward to that challenge."

With forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter in their second season with Minnesota, the bar was raised. The Wild answered, advancing past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since their reaching the Western Conference Final in 2003.

After being dispatched rather easily by the Blackhawks in five games in 2013, the Wild went toe-to-toe with the defending champs in 2014.

"We took a step, and I'm proud of the step we took," Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher said. "This team has really grown by leaps and bounds. I'm really proud of our coaching staff, our players. We were one of the best teams in the League from Jan. 1 on and we carried that strong play into the playoffs."

With established veterans Parise and Suter in the mix for the next decade and a five-year contract for forward Jason Pominville that starts in 2014-15, it was crucial that younger players, Niederreiter and forwards Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle, take on larger roles.

All three proved to be valuable parts of the Wild's core moving forward.

Perhaps the most encouraging news of the playoffs was the development of rookie Erik Haula, who was arguably the Wild's best player during the postseason. Tasked with helping to slow the Colorado Avalanche's explosive first line, Haula did his job. Against Chicago, Haula scored Minnesota's final two goals of the series. He finished the postseason with four goals and three assists and was a plus-2. During the regular season, Haula was a plus-14, the highest rating for a rookie in Wild history.

Mikael Granlund

Center - MIN

GOALS: 4 | ASST: 3 | PTS: 7

SOG: 35 | +/-: 3

"Each one of the young guys, I think we push each other to get better and I feel like that helped a lot," Niederreiter said. "Over the course of the year, each one of us played in different situations. When someone was hurt, there was a young guy ready to step up his game and try to perform at that level. I feel like that was good to be a part of. We pushed each other to be better hockey players in all situations."

Niederreiter scored the series-clinching overtime goal in Game 7 against Colorado and carried that confidence into the second round against Chicago. Yeo said he saw a switch flip with Niederreiter around Game 4 or 5 against the Avalanche, and from that point on he was one of the Wild's best players.

Niederreiter now hopes to carry that momentum into the start of next season.

"That's my goal and that's what I'm looking for," Niederreiter said. "I will do everything it takes to be in that spot next year, and I feel that's great motivation to push myself this summer."

For Granlund, the OT hero in Game 3 against the Avalanche, the postseason was the exclamation point on a breakout season. After injuries and a lengthy adjustment to the North American game kept him primarily in the American Hockey League last season, the Finn took several steps forward in 2013-14. He spent much of the playoffs centering the top line with Parise and Pominville.

Coyle, who shifted between forward positions all season, thrived on right wing during the postseason, scoring three goals and two assists in the Colorado series before separating one shoulder in Game 4 against the Avalanche and separating the other in Game 3 against the Blackhawks. But Coyle didn't miss a game and proved to be effective, assisting on two goals after sustaining the second injury.

"As our young players continue to get better, our team will continue to get better," Yeo said. "Just as it was game-to-game or series-to-series, it has to be season-to-season now."

Blackhawks, Kings meet again in Western Final

The Chicago Blackhawks eliminated the Los Angeles Kings in five games in the 2013 Western Conference Final on their way to the Stanley Cup. To have a chance to become the first repeat champion in 16 years, Chicago will have to beat L.A. again.

The Blackhawks and Kings, who each finished third in their division, begin the best-of-7 rematch Sunday at United Center (3 p.m. ET; NBC, TSN, RDS).

The Blackhawks have been off since eliminating the Minnesota Wild by winning Game 6 of their Western Conference Second Round series in overtime. The Kings had a quick turnaround; Los Angeles flew to Chicago after ousting the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 of their second-round series Friday.

For the past two years, the Blackhawks have had much the better of their matchups; in addition to going 4-1 against the Kings last spring, Chicago swept three regular-season games in 2013-14, outscoring Los Angeles 9-4. The Blackhawks won 3-1 and 1-0 at home during a 15-day span in December before a 5-3 win at Staples Center on Feb. 3.

Going back to the 2012-13 regular season, Chicago has won nine of 11 games between the teams.


Jonathan Toews and Jarrett Stoll

The Blackhawks have one of the most talented top-six units in the NHL, and coach Joel Quenneville is not shy about mixing and matching those players.

Quenneville reunited Patrick Sharp (six points), Jonathan Toews (five goals, 10 points) and Marian Hossa (11 points) for the final two games of the second-round series. Toews scored the game-winner in Game 5, with assists from Hossa and Sharp, and the line was a matchup nightmare for Minnesota.

Patrick Kane (team-high six goals) anchors the second line and might be the most dynamic scorer left in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kane has scored three series-winning goals.

Late in the series, Kane was joined by Brandon Saad and Michal Handzus on a revamped second line. Bryan Bickell, who has six goals, played third-line minutes in that alignment.

It is the rest of the bottom-two lines that have caused consternation for Chicago, a problem exacerbated by the injury to Andrew Shaw, who has started skating again after sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 1 against the Wild.

Peter Regin was inserted into the lineup late in the second round and had some good moments. Kris Versteeg has been in and out of the lineup this postseason but scored the first goal in Game 6 against Minnesota.

Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik have turned out to be a dynamic force on the top line since Gaborik arrived at the NHL Trade Deadline.

Kopitar began the playoffs with a 10-game point streak and, although he didn't score a goal in the second round series until a blowout Game 7, had eight assists. All Gaborik has done is lead the League with nine goals in 14 playoffs games after he had 11 goals in 41 regular season-games. Kopitar won 27 of 41 faceoffs in the final two games of the second-round series against the Anaheim Ducks, and the duo ended up outshining Hart Trophy finalist Ryan Getzlaf and former Hart winner Corey Perry.

There is some fallback, production-wise, after that, but the contributions are timely. Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis each have four goals in the playoffs, but a most of them have been clutch. Carter is usually flanked by Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and the trio flourished early in the postseason.

The bottom six is full of the usual blue-collar grit, but coach Darryl Sutter made a key move early in the playoffs and spread out Justin Williams and Mike Richards for more balance. Williams, like clockwork, displayed his penchant for clutch play with the opening goal in Game 7 against Anaheim.


They have been the saving grace at both ends of the ice for the Blackhawks, with the top four effective in all three zones.

Brent Seabrook, who missed three first-round games with a suspension for a hit against the St. Louis Blues, is tied with Hossa for the Blackhawks scoring lead (11 points). Duncan Keith, who plays 27:57 per game, has eight points. That pair is a plus-8 in the postseason.

The next pair, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson, might be more valuable because they usually are used in a shut-down role. They have six points combined but have kept the opposition in check. Hjalmarsson has 38 blocked shots, more than any defenseman left in the playoffs.

The Blackhawks have used three defensemen to fill the final two spots. Presently it is Nick Leddy and Sheldon Brookbank, who played well during the suspension of Seabrook. Leddy was scratched for one game because Quenneville wanted to see a more hard-nosed game from him. Rozsival did not play the final two games of the Minnesota series after committing several turnovers in Game 4.

Drew Doughty

The Kings are relying heavily on the top pairing of Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin in the wake of injuries to Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr. Mitchell has begun skating but it is unknown when he will return from a lower-body injury.

Doughty is used to the workload but the Kings are running thin when he's in the penalty box. Muzzin has grown more into his larger role and leads all Kings defensemen with three goals, but has an occasional lapse. Jeff Schultz has been pressed into action in the second pairing because of the injuries. He is a big body but he's also slow and might struggle against Chicago's speedy forwards.

Alec Martinez has provided punch from the blue line. He has more goals than Doughty. Schultz's partner, Slava Voynov, has mostly been a disappointment after several effective springs.


Corey Crawford often is the forgotten part of the Chicago equation in the wake of all the talent among the skaters playing in front of him.

But Crawford has been very good this season. He has stolen games instead of just hanging around and letting the Blackhawks' potent offense win them.

He was not very good during the first two games in Minnesota, allowing seven goals during a four-period stretch from the third period of Game 3 to the end of Game 4, but he allowed one goal in each of the next two, including 34 saves in Game 5.

For long stretches this postseason, Crawford has been the elite goalie the Blackhawks have craved. His .931 save percentage ties him for the playoff lead with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and his 1.97 goals-against average is the best among goalies with more than five appearances.

The opening games of the first-round series seem like months ago for Jonathan Quick, who righted himself after he allowed 16 goals in the first three games against the San Jose Sharks. Quick has allowed 20 goals in the ensuing 11 games and allowed one or zero goals five times in that span.

The Kings have gotten back to their lockdown defensive game in front of Quick and they can afford some breaches on their penalty kill because Quick is there to make up for it. Quick appeared to fully get his swagger back in Game 7 when he stopped Corey Perry on a penalty shot and a breakaway.


Joel Quenneville

They don't come much better than Quenneville, who coached Chicago to the Stanley Cup championship in 2010 and 2013. He has more elite-level talent than many of his peers, and he finds a way to get the most out of that talent.

This postseason, he has coached his way around suspensions to two players, a 2-0 series hole against the favored Blues, and the injury to Shaw, one of his most versatile forwards.

Quenneville is ready to change things at any time, mixing forward lines like a mad scientist, usually with a big payoff instead of a disastrous meltdown.

After coaching 174 Stanley Cup Playoff games, and winning 98 of them, nothing is going to surprise Quenneville at this time of year.

Sutter comes across as a simple farmer but he probably doesn't get enough credit for making the right adjustments. He put young players Pearson and Toffoli with Carter and moved Richards to the fourth line, both shrewd moves.

The Kings defense held up despite the loss of the stay-at-home, penalty-killing Mitchell and Regehr, and Los Angeles got to a Game 7 against Anaheim without getting goals from Doughty, Williams and Dustin Brown.

There is no ambiguity with a Sutter-coached Kings team. He puts his lineup out there and doesn't pay any attention to what the opponent does because it's all about his team sticking to what it does. This will be Sutter's 10th playoff series in three seasons, and Game 1 will be the 53rd playoff game in that span.

Special teams

The Blackhawks are the League's stingiest team in the postseason killing penalties. St. Louis and Minnesota combined to score on four of 46 attempts in 12 games (8.7 percent). Chicago allowed one goal in 19 attempts in six games at United Center. The penalty kill had to be good because the Blackhawks are one of the most penalized teams remaining.

Despite the offensive talent, the Blackhawks are in the middle of the pack on the power play, converting on 18.2 percent. Most of the struggles have come on the road; at home, the power play is clicking at 31.2 percent (5-for-16).

A power-play unit which finished No. 27 in the NHL in the regular season has cashed in productively in the playoffs.

The Kings are 11-for-48 and scored in nine of 14 games. Some of that has to do with Gaborik, who has two power-play goals but, more important, gives the opposition that extra goal scorer to account for on the man-advantage.

The Kings' penalty-killing unit, usually a strength, took a dip when it allowed five power-play goals in Games 2-5 against Anaheim but rebounded when it killed all eight attempts in the final two games of the series.

Series changer

Sheldon Brookbank -- The defenseman is not called upon often, but Brookbank has had a major role so far in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Since joining the Blackhawks for the start of the 2012-13 season, Brookbank has played 74 regular-season games, and one during Chicago's march to the Stanley Cup last season. This season has been different. He has played in six games in the first two rounds, spelling the suspended Seabrook in the first round and playing for Leddy and Rozsival in the second. Brookbank has played a simple, steady game, with two assists and a plus-4 rating, which has settled an unsure third pairing. If he continues to play in that manner, an already good defense becomes deeper.

Jeff Carter

Jeff Carter Gaborik has done his part to boost the Kings, who will need more than him to make a difference against Chicago. Now it's Carter's turn. He has been fairly quiet with four goals in 14 games, and if he can deliver timely scores like his breakaway in Game 7 in Anaheim, it will give the Kings a chance.


Blackhawks will win if … They stick with their game plan from the first two rounds. With the fifth-best record in the Western Conference and the seventh-best record in the League, Chicago is built to win in the playoffs. The Blackhawks are skilled at all the important positions, loaded with big-game experience, have an overabundance of confidence, and are unbeatable so far in six games at United Center. It is a recipe for success in late May and early June.

Kings will win if … Their patched-up defense somehow contains Chicago's stable of fast, skilled forwards. Much of that will depend on slow-footed Schultz and Matt Greene to keep up and limit prime scoring chances because Quick can only be asked to do so much. Los Angeles was able to get by a skating team like Anaheim but Chicago poses just as much, if not more of a threat.