Apr 30, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Minnesota Wild goalie Josh Harding (37) reaches for the puck in front of Chicago Blackhawks right wing Marian Hossa (81) during the third period in game one of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
This isn’t a nonsense post about the Chicago Blackhawks‘ defense issues or goaltending troubles, specifically because Corey Crawford has played well, made big saves, and made up for any indiscretions along the way. This is about the opponent. Any opponent that the Blackhawks might face down the road in the playoffs.
The Blackhawks have shown all season that they can overcome any style of play against them. They stay focused in physical games; they can match any speed; they compete well in games of skill. But the one area where the Blackhawks have a history of breaking down is against excellent goaltending.
Some fans assume that the Hawks need to be more afraid of high-offense players because their own offense can beat any defense. Yes, a strong team defense is the key to beating the offensively talented team, and the Blackhawks have responded well this season to their own defense issues from last season; they have two goaltenders with the best record in the league! It’s almost to the point where fans should no longer be nervous about the Blackhawks’ defense or goaltending, because it has been consistent throughout the season and even the first few games of the playoffs.
But even without great defense on their side, the Blackhawks were still in the running in last year’s playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes. Five of the six games went into overtime, and that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the ridiculous goaltending of Mike Smith. With the plays they were making and the shots they took, the Hawks could have won at least two of the games they lost whether Crawford gave up soft goals or not. Where they really struggled that series was against excellent goaltending.
This issue keeps nagging as I tried to fill out my playoff bracket. So many people called for the Pittsburgh Penguins to win the Stanley Cup this year, but I just couldn’t agree with them. The thought of Chicago facing Pittsburgh in the finals isn’t that scary if you consider their goaltending. Yes, Pittsburgh has so many very talented skaters who can make plays and make shots count, but so does Chicago. Of course, the Blackhawks would need to continue to have their defensive game under firm control to have a shot, but their offensive talent going up against someone like Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t scary. I would be more afraid of facing the Washington Capitals with the way that Braden Holtby is playing.
This isn’t a Chicago vs Pittsburgh Stanley Cup Final preview, or jumping the gun to a series beyond Minnesota that the Blackhawks aren’t yet guaranteed to play. It’s just to point out that the games may be close, but the Blackhawks have consistently pulled through many styles of opponents more times than not, and if the Blackhawks remain consistent, the only teams they have to fear are those with the hottest goaltender.
Who do you thing would be the most difficult team for the Blackhawks to face in any series during the playoffs?