The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up their regular season last night with a 2-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche. But in reality, the regular season had effectively ended that morning, when a win by the St. Louis Blues against the Minnesota Wild earlier that day decided the playoff match-up for the Hawks: starting Round 1 on the road against the Nashville Predators.
Time to party like it’s 2010.
Here are five quick thoughts about Chicago’s first round foes:
- The old adage about the playoffs being a completely new season is only partially true. While the teams who survive the cut and continue to suit up on/after April 15 tend to bring a whole other level to their game, you can’t discount the way those teams played during the regular season. Not entirely, anyway. Things that teams struggle with all season and haven’t figured out by the final few games tend to haunt them during the playoffs. This is my biggest concern about the Hawks, particularly with the defensive pairs. Johnny Oduya had his moments this season that made us facepalm pretty hard, but he showed remarkable improvement toward the end, especially when reunited with Niklas Hjalmarsson. Michal Rozsival, on the other hand, continues to make a lot of awful mistakes at the worst times.
- The best defense is a good offense. Yes, we are tired of that old saying too, but in the case of the Hawks, it tends to play out that way more often than not. When guys like Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa are on a scoring tear, the other teams are on a fool’s errand in trying to stop them. However, except for a few flashes of brilliance here and there, the scoring well has all but dried up in Patrick Kane’s absence over the past several weeks. Although the reports are that he is healing ahead of schedule, Kane’s official recovery timeline has not changed, so the Hawks will need to find a way to get pucks past Preds goalie Pekka Rinne without him.
- Corey Crawford cannot win all 16 games for the Hawks single-handedly. No matter how awesome he has played down the stretch. It was just announced late last night that Crawford is the co-winner, along with Montreal Canadiens goalie and Vezina favorite Carey Price, of the William M. Jennings trophy. While that is certainly a great achievement, and the second Jennings that he has won in three years, I’m sure Crow is much more interested in winning the Stanley Cup. But he’s gonna need a little help from his friends. Okay, more than just a little help. That includes not turning over the puck in the Hawks end and not just standing idly by when other teams swarm in on the net.
- Both the Hawks and the Preds are sliding into the postseason on losing streaks. This is a good sign for the Hawks; they have a better capacity for rebounding from losing streaks and showing resilience than the Preds, who likely would have won this year’s Presidents’ Trophy had it not been for a very tumultuous second half of the season. That said, Rinne could find his grove from earlier in the season. And no matter how much Hawks fans may dislike him, Preds defenseman Shea Weber can shoot. Hard. Crow is an outstanding goalie, but if Weber is around to scoop up any rebounds, that could be a very dangerous thing.
- At the end of the day, the Hawks can and should prevail against the Preds, and move on to Round 2. It wasn’t just the outstanding efforts of Toews and Crawford have helped get the Hawks to the playoffs, but the team as a whole really stepped up in the past several weeks, in spite of the aforementioned concerns. In 2010, the Hawks, who had home ice advantage, won the first round series against the Preds 4-2. Although the Preds have the home ice advantage this time, it is likely that the outcome will be the same, since the Hawks have been playing much better on the road this year than they have at the United Center.
What do you think, Hawks fans? What are your predictions for Round 1?
Game 1 begins on April 15 in Nashville. See the full schedule here.
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