The series against the Wings ended in dramatic fashion. From a storyline perspective, it doesn’t get much better than that. From a fans perspective on the other hand, a lot of calls and plays were direct links to massive heart strain. With a 3-1 OT win over the Red Wings, the Hawks are rewarded with a series against the defending cup champs. This Kings team won’t be like the regular season Kings. No, this group has found its focus, and they want another cup. Let’s take a look at a few questions going into this series.
1) What will the refereeing be like?
With Walkom’s horrendous call against the Blackhawks in their game seven (eventual) victory, all eyes are on the refs. It’s also worth noting that Walkom was selected to ref the next round of the playoffs! Oh joy! I would suspect that games will be called fairly tightly for the first two to three games of the next round, due to the national media microscope on the officials. It’s still playoff hockey, and as the series goes on I expect less calls to be made. I think this could benefit the Hawks since they tend to get interfered with frequently, largely due to their outstanding puck possession.
2) Will the Kings possibly adopt the “hug a Toews” strategy?
There is always going to be the possibility that from here on out that teams will see how much they can get away with on Toews. There are two main reasons for this. First, the refs were allowing a lot of extra pokes and holds on Toews. Second, teams saw Toews completely lose his cool and drag his team down with him. The refs might be calling things tighter the first few games so Toews might have some room to work. Not only will the refs and Toews’ temper play a factor in how teams handle him, but also how Q wants to match him up. I expect that Toews will have things go his way a bit more in this series.
3) Will the Power Play continue to be a factor?
The Hawks PP didn’t look that great in game seven, but I don’t think it’s all bad. They have the tape of their successful PPs, and I would be willing to bet that it will be studied. I think that it will be vital in this series against the Kings. PPGs were factors in six of the seven games in LA’s series with the Sharks. With the Kings fast, hard hitting approach, you can expect a few special teams opportunities going both ways. With Quick in net, the Hawks will need to take full advantage of their special teams play.
4) How much of a factor will Quick be?
Quick’s play has been a key component in the success of the Kings for the past few seasons. When Quick is on, the Kings are a dangerous team. Quick is leading all goalies in every important stat, and he is a very consistent goalie. The Hawks will need to get bodies to the front of the net. Also, there won’t be rookie defenseman to take advantage of this time around, so don’t expect as many turnovers and missed coverage. If the Hawks aren’t willing to get bodies consistently to the net, then the stars will need to be placing their shots in perfect locations.
5) How will the Hawks Handle Richards?
The center position for the Kings is deep to say the least. Usually Toews has been matched up against Kopitar, but it’s possible that we’ll see him on Richards. Bolland might be given Brown with the shutdown role back as his job title. That leaves Kruger or Handzus for Kopitar. At this point, both players have shown they can handle defensive responsibilities. Handzus still worries me the further into the playoffs we get, but he still shows his vet presence throughout games. Q will really need to adjust on the fly to see what’s going to work the best to tame these formidable centers.
6) Will the Hawks be able to handle the Kings forecheck?
If you remember in the game the Hawks lost to the Kings, there was a long stretch of play in the Hawks zone. The Kings forecheck can be extremely aggressive, and they can keep a team hemmed in for long stretches. We saw Detroit taking advantage of the Hawks as well, and Q had a practice focusing on defensive zone exits. The Hawks looked a lot better leaving their zone in games six and seven and hopefully will continue with that trend going into this next series.
7) Will the Kings physical nature disrupt the Hawks?
The Hawks have dealt with other teams in the regular season that focus on physical play, and they still usually came out on top. With that said, this is a whole different world of physical play. The Hawks will need to keep up the physical play they brought to Detroit and focus on not losing their cool. The Kings are currently credited with 237 more hits than the Hawks. That’s not a shocking stat if you know how these teams play, but it is a good stat for the Hawks to keep in mind. While the Hawks aren’t hitting everything that moves, they are taking away the puck more than anyone else. On top of that, they are one of the most responsible teams with the puck. The Hawks should be plenty prepared by this point for the physical play.
8) Could game seven be a sign of things to come for Seabrook?
Seabs has been disappointing all year long, and that continued into the playoffs. He came into the season out of shape, and it seems he has yet to recover completely. With that said, maybe he will be gripping his stick a little less tight. I expect to see him exhibit a bit more confidence with the puck, and I think it could help him off the puck as well. While my expectations are rising for him, I’m not going to demand six goals and 5 assists from him. I will however expect more consistency from our veteran defender.
9) Could we see a goalie switch with the back to back games?
This decision will most likely hinge on a simple conversation between Q and Crawford about how he’s feeling. Of course it will also depend on how Crow plays in game one. If he’s slow and looking a bit tired, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Emery in net for the second game. Emery has been solid all year when he has been called upon. The only thing that could be a question mark in this situation is if Emery’s injury was more serious than indicated and is still nagging him.
10) Will Q work the matchups or roll the lines?
I think it’s clear that the Wild were not prepared for the playoffs, which is what made Q get too comfy with not working the matchups. He saw how Babcock was winning the coaching battle and Q adjusted, though only after going down 3-1 in the series. I can only see him continuing with that winning strategy. With the aforementioned center depth of the Kings, this will probably be even more crucial to the Hawks’ success.