The Chicago Blackhawks are firm believers in focusing on the now, and while that’s great for team focus, it’s not as fun for the fans who like to look at possibilities. I am well aware that I’m jumping the gun here, but it’s still important to know your enemy. With the playoffs looming and playoff spots solidifying, it’s time to break down the toughest threats in the East for the Blackhawks.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins (09-12 The Hawks Record: 2-2-0)
A fast team that is willing to hit, the Pens have a respected transition game. Earlier they had some questionable goaltending and some defensive lapses, but it looks like they have gotten back on track. Crosby leads the team in points with 56, and an astounding 41 assists. Kunitz, Letang, Neal, Dupuis, Malkin, and Martin all have 20+ points, so the offense is coming from a lot of places. Both goalies are playing above league average, so it’s hard to say that they are having much trouble in net, but right when the Pens were loading up with Morrow and Iginla, they suffered the loss of Crosby and Neal. Crosby took a puck to the mouth and Neal reportedly has a concussion. Those two injuries could hinder the Pens’ chances, but don’t consider them weak; they have enough star power to make anyone pay. If Crosby is back in time for this matchup, Toews will have his work cut out for him, not just defensively, but at the dot as well. The Hawks will need to be quick and thorough in their exits and clog up the neutral zone to prevent the Pens from gaining easy entries.
2) Montreal Canadiens (09-12 The Hawks Record: 2-2-0)
Montreal has been a surprise for a lot of people. Between their terrible performance last year and the P.K. Subban drama at the start of this season, most expected only a minor improvement from last year. To put the improvement into perspective, it took them 56 games last year to tally the same amount of points they have earned in 39 games this season. They are a small team, but their goaltending and team play have been the main reasons for their success. Their offense has been spread remarkably evenly between 14 different players, with Subban leading the team in points. No longer are they getting bullied by the Bruins, they are focused and refusing to be pushed around or out worked. After watching the Hawks struggle against the Blue Jackets, I can see Montreal being a tough matchup for the Blackhawks. The Habs’ team play very nearly rivals the Blackhawks’, so this series could easily come down to who makes the first mistake.
1) Boston Bruins (09-12 The Hawks Record: 2-4-0)
The Bruins are a tough defensive team, and they have shown some dominance against the Hawks in the last few seasons. While Thomas might be in a bunker somewhere, Rask has had no problem stealing the show. Rask and Khudobin have similar stats to our very own Emery and Crawford, who are both ranked in the top 15 in SV% and GAA. In my top 10 toughest western matchups, I said that the Blues are an upgraded Columbus. Well, the Bruins are an upgraded Blues team. They have a lot of gritty hardworking players, and they added even more veteran experience with Jagr. Their leading goal scorer is Marchand, who is also leading in points, while Bergeron and Krejci are tied for the team lead in assists. Another positive aspect that the Bruins possess is Bergeron’s ridiculous face off percentage. A key to the Hawks success is puck possession, and they will have to get through Bergeron on any key draws. Between their size, strong defense, and goaltending, I see Boston being the toughest opponent the Hawks would have to go through for the cup.