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Drop the puck! Blackhawk Up and Rat Trick face off

By Jeffrey Bartl
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All the hype, all the talk, all the bullshit and preseason predictions don’t mean a damn thing anymore. It’s time to drop the puck, and the Chicago Blackhawks run for their first Stanley Cup since 1961 officially begins. I’m so f-ing stoked it’s going to be extremely hard to be objective, but I’ll give it a go.

Frank Rekas over at The Rat Trick and I had our own faceoff before the Blackhawks begin the season against the Florida Panthers in Helsinki at 11 a.m. CST. You wanna get nuts? Let’s get nuts!

The Panthers will win if:

Rat Trick: They play a simple game and play a tight forechecking style finishing their checks and not allowing the skilled and speedy Hawk forwards alot of space.  In addition the Panthers have to stay out of the penalty box.  The PK last year was awful and it cannot repeat itself especially against an offensive powerhouse like the Blackhawks.  Key player for the Panthers: David Booth.  He is the go-to guy.  At least until Nathan Horton gets the lead out.

Blackhawk Up: They put pressure on Chicago’s defense right off the bat. The Blackhawks have the offensive firepower, but if the Panthers can get to Cristobal Huet early and put up two quick ones, Chicago’s offense may begin to press. The depth at forward is there for the Blackhawks at forward to put together an answer to quick goals, but I like Florida’s chances if they take an early lead.

The Blackhawks will win if:

Rat Trick: They use their speed and quickness applying pressure to the Panther defense.  By keeping the puck in the Panthers zone and challenging the defense the Cats could be on their heels more than they want.   If the Hawks get off to an early lead and maintain pressure, it will be over early.  Key player for the Blackhawks:  Patrick Kane. He needs to get off to a fast start and he’s primed for that with his recent play.

Blackhawk Up: They show up. I’m kidding — kind of. There’s plenty more talent on Chicago’s side of the puck that I find it hard to believe the Blackhawks don’t come out of here with a pair of wins. It’s not rocket surgery. But much like the Panthers need to jump on the ‘Hawks early, Chicago needs to focus on doing the same. All the bullshit from the preseason would be put away nicely with a quick goal or 10.

How the Goalies Matchup:

Rat Trick: You’d be hard pressed to find two goaltenders who have more to prove than these two.  Tomas Vokoun — known for slow starts — has to settle in quickly and be a calming influence for Florida.  He cannot afford to give up any softies.  Vokoun is vocal about the play in front of him, but this year he will have back up his sharp comments.

Cristobal Huet could determine how far the Hawks go this year.  He has never been “The Guy” and while he played well in spots last year, he also had some bad games as well.  However with no proven backup breathing down his neck he could be relaxed enough to be the goalie the Hawks expected him to be when he signed last year.  If he plays like he did in the final game against Detroit, he’ll prove alot of doubters wrong.   Key component for Vokoun: Stay Focused.  Key component for Huet: watch the rebounds.

Blackhawk Up: Rekas said it right — Huet must control rebounds and not give up any cheap goals. And that doesn’t just go for this weekend, either. In a way, I feel bad for the guy. Everyone keeps saying Chicago has enough talent go make a Cup run, but their goaltending will keep the drought running at 49 years. I’m not sold on the talk of how Huet can’t be a No. 1 and that he’s never played a full season being reasons the ‘Hawks can’t win. Ed Belfour won the goddamn Vezina Trophy as a rookie. He didn’t have much NHL action before adding hardware. Am I saying Huet will win the Vezina? No. But I’m saying he won’t be the lone reason the ‘Hawks are denied the Cup — if it comes to that.

Vokoun better strap those pads on tight, because the Blackhawks sharpshooters are coming hard for him. I’m expecting him to face at least 35 shots as the ‘Hawks get into the groove early. Watch your ass, Vokoun.

Coaching Matchup:

Rat Trick: Experience against youth as Joel Quenneville will battle wits with Peter DeBoer.  Similar in style as they each expect hard work, accountability and demand their players work the system.  Quenneville has many more weapons than DeBoer and that right there gives the Hawks an advantage.  Quenneville can comfortably roll all four lines on a regular basis while DeBoer has shown that in tight situations he will rely on his top three and usually play five defencemen.  Causing tired mistakes and leads slipping away.  Key component:  Hawks have alot of skill and offense.  Quenneville will challenge the Panthers defense to keep up.

Blackhawk Up: What he said. Quenneville has the experience and, what’s more, knows how to use it with the talent he’s been provided. DeBoer will take his lumps with quick, rash decisions — and that has a lot to do with having less talent most of the time his team is on the ice. Quenneville will out-coach DeBoer, but it’s up to the players to produce.

Predictions:

Rat Trick: While making predictions is always dangerous I feel confident that the Hawks will be too much for Florida.  4-2 Blackhawks.

Blackhawk Up: Blackhawks 5, Florida 1. Remember all that talk about getting off to a quick start? Yeah, the ‘Hawks will be the ones to do it — and they won’t look back.

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