After defeating the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are currently playing the waiting game to find out who their second round adversary will be: the Colorado Avalanche or the Minnesota Wild. In Game 6 the seventh seed Wild blew out the second seed Avalanche to force a Game 7 in their playoff series that will be played tonight in Denver. For the Hawks this means a welcomed extra few days of rest, but it also means hitting playbooks and game tapes. With the Avs-Wild series all knotted up at 3-3 to be determined by a single game, it’s a toss-up at this point who the Blackhawks will be facing in the second round of the post-season, and the Hawks need to bone up on know how when it comes to beating the Wild and the Avalanche.
For us fans, given the way the Hawks fared against both these Central Division teams in the regular season, the preferred second round matchup at first glance may seem obvious, but after the way things have panned out thus far in the post-season, the answer is no longer as cut and dry. Going off the regular season record the Hawks had against both these teams alone (both losing records), and the preference becomes somewhat more of a “pick your poison” type decision.
Maybe that’s bit of an overstatement (after all our Hawks are coming off a dominant performance in their first post season series), but in the NHL playoffs anything can happen, and the regular season can quickly become a distant and irrelevant memory. Suffice it to say that if an underperforming Wild team have given a surging Avalanche team so much trouble in the playoffs, anything is possible. Let’s take a more detailed look at the pluses and minuses for both these prospective second round opponents for the Hawks:
Minnesota Wild – Regular Season Record against the Blackhawks: 3-2
Ask any Blackhawks fans who they’d rather have the Hawks face in the second round, and they’ll probably answer the Minnesota Wild, who at face value appear to be the preferred match-up choice for multiple reasons. First and most obviously, against the Wild the Hawks regain home ice advantage. What’s not to want? Furthermore, the Chicago to Minneapolis is less travel time than Chicago to Denver. Also, the Blackhawks know how to beat the Wild in the playoffs, and decisively so; they drubbed Minnesota in last year’s playoffs in a mere five games. Taking on the Minnesota Wild in the second round seems like the preferred situation, right?
With the Wild, however, I feel the Hawks could really have their hands full, very full. While it’s been the St. Louis Blues that have been getting all the hype for trying to make 2014 “their year,” the Minnesota Wild are also a team that’s looking to break out and get over the hump in the post season. Remember, this is the team that shelled out lots of dough to land Zach Parise and Ryan Suter (who both are having a solid series against the Avs, by the way) a few years back so this is certainly a franchise with high aspirations. Let’s not also forget that the Wild were embarrassed by the Hawks last year in the post season, so the prospect of getting some payback will be tantalizing for Minnesota. Couple that with a team already amped up from pulling off a major upset and the Wild become a very dangerous force for the Hawks to potentially reckon with in the second round.
Colorado Avalanche – Regular Season Record against the Blackhawks: 4-1
During their Patrick Roy-led turnaround year, the Colorado Avalanche gave the Blackhawks a great deal of trouble in the regular season, or more specifically, their goalie Semyon Varlamov did; despite their firepower, the Hawks just were not able to crack the Russian net-minder and tally a win against him all season long. Up until the last week of the regular season, the Hawks were slated to face the Avs in round one, which had many Blackhawks fans nervous, considering the aforementioned. During the regular season Varlamov kept his cool amidst a barrage of shots on goal each time he faced the Hawks, and who’s to say he couldn’t continue the trend in the playoffs? The Avalanche defied all expectations this season, and it’s never a good scenario to go up against what might be a team of destiny, right?
When the Avs started the season, they adopted the slogan “Why Not Us?” In other words, we’re the underdogs. All regular season long the Avalanche wore the hat well, but by the time the playoffs rolled around, the Avs had gone from underdog to top dog in the Western Conference. In doing so the Avalanche may have gotten ahead of themselves. Going from not expected to succeed to being expected to succeed is a new type of pressure unfamiliar to this young squad, which may explain why the Avalanche are struggling against a seventh seed team with more veterans. Certain analysts predicted the Avs inexperience in the post season would be their undoing, and this may be the case. If Colorado manages to pull off a seventh game victory tonight, they face a second round opponent that has more playoff experience on their entire starting line-up than the Avalanche do on their entire team. The Avs may have gotten the better of the Hawks in the regular season, but the post season is the Blackhawks’ domain.
Basically what it comes down to is the Blackhawks will be squaring off a surging Minnesota Wild or a somewhat disenfranchised Colorado Avalanche in the second round of the playoffs. There and pros and cons with either scenario, but after dominating the Blues, the Blackhawks seemed to have once again hit their playoff stride, and are ready for more, so Colorado or Minnesota: bring it on!
FOR THE DAGGER!