It’s become a badge of honor, almost, for its members. The Blackhawks penalty kill has become a great example of shut-down hockey, of special teams at their best.
And some players like Michael Frolik apparently get a little glint in their eye when they go on it.
“We were laughing before (Game 4) that it’s almost like when we get a penalty (Frolik) gets excited because he gets more ice time and get some more shifts,” Patrick Kane said with a laugh on Wednesday. “You see him take advantage of it.”
The Blackhawks as a whole have taken advantage of the power play, which was 6 for 6 in their Game 4 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night and is 15 for 15 for this series. But those on it truly have embraced their success. Guys like Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews have had it as part of their repertoire for some time now. Frolik and Marcus Kruger have carved a new niche on it. Their work, along with strong goaltending, has made the penalty kill tough for opponents all season. And it’s crossed over into the playoffs.
So what’s changed so much on this penalty kill, which went from being ranked 26th in the league last season to finishing this one third?
“I think with our PK, we formulated a nice pairing in Krugs and Fro that probably wasn’t in place. We’ve had more rotation. Our top guys aren’t utilized as much and we’ve saved them more for 5 on 5 and the power play and kept everybody fresh,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “And goaltending has complimented the whole thing. We’ve gotten timely saves, big stops. Sometimes it’s been amazing some didn’t go in. At the end of the day, the goaltender is the key guy.”
Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery were stellar final blockades on the kill this regular season, something Crawford’s continued to be against the Wild in this series.
“Kaner was just talking about it there with Crawford: you need to have a great goaltender to kill as many off as we have this series,” Toews said of Crawford. “and he’s doing his job as well as he possibly can be.”
But it’s truly been a team – or unit – effort. Kruger and Frolik’s addition to, and embracing of, the kill cannot be shortchanged. Frolik has the team’s lone short-handed goal in these playoffs from his work on it. Formerly categorized as role players, the two have made the penalty kill their forte. Teammates have recognized their work there, and how much they enjoy doing it.
“They’ve taken the lead,” Toews said. “They’re the guys who don’t come off the ice during the penalty kill. It can get pretty tiring, but they keep hopping over the bench and doing their job when called upon. It’s great to see the energy those two are bringing us.”
Patrick Sharp agreed.
“They’ve done a great job,” he said of Frolik and Kruger. “They’ve taken that unit over. They’re out there first on all the kills, they make great reads and have great sticks. They’re a big reason why the PK has been solid all season.”
The Blackhawks certainly want to avoid the conga line to the box they had in Game 4. Six penalty kills can be tiring. But when they have to go on the kill, they’re confident in doing so. Some familiar faces, and new ones, have combined to create that confidence.
“It’s been great, from goaltending to blocking shots to being in the right position to getting good clears. I’m not on the PK a lot, but when you see guys sacrificing and blocking shots, being in good lanes, it definitely pumps you up,” Kane said. “When you get a good kill, momentum swings in your favor. You’ve seen that during the series.”