Chicago Blackhawks- Detroit Red Wings conference semis preview

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The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings will wage battle one last time as conference, divisional opponents. On the verge of game one, it is only appropriate to take a look at this Original Six playoff series.

 During the regular season, Chicago swept the four games played. In doing so, the Hawks outscored the Wings 14-5. The total goals are not indicative of the games, as three of the four were decided by one goal and in extra time. A lot has been said in media coverage in regards to the top-seed’s skill and depth. Detroit is being given a puncher’s chance, but being given a chance is all the team may need.

 Chicago and Detroit play a puck possession game. More often than not, the two offenses like to control the pace by keeping the biscuit on their sticks. A basic dump and chase game is not seen as often on either side, but used as needed. Open ice play can benefit both, but with the Blackhawks rolling four lines comfortably, the play could favor them, offensively.

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 The Red Wings received contributions from players not named Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in their opening series versus Anaheim. Rookie Damien Brunner and veteran Daniel Cleary potted five points, and Johan Franzen had three powerplay goals. Justin Abdelkader, despite his boneheaded play that earned him a two-game suspension, was great in the series (+4 in five games). Secondary scoring keeps teams in games, series.

 Where Detroit can run into trouble against Chicago is in their own zone. If Detroit is forced to chase Hawks players, and not use some of their size, Chicago will pepper a good, but not great goalie in Jimmy Howard. Howard’s play was a large part of the team’s series win, but to say some of the goals in the first few games were weak would be an injustice. Howard can get inside his own head after a soft goal, much like Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford. What Howard has had to realize is that Niklas Lidstrom is not around the net covering his behind.

 Niklas Kronwall is an above average defenseman, but being asked to lead Detroit’s D-corps is no small feat. Hockeytown is used to superior defenseman, and Detroit has not received that for most of the season. The eight defenseman used in their opening series were a combined -8 +/- rating. Kronwall and Brendan Smith, who are arguably the two best blueliners for Detroit, were a -5. Playing first pairing minutes against the opponent’s best can cause those numbers, and so can not being a true one or two d-man.

 The Hawks’ blueline played okay against Minnesota in round one. Duncan Keith still turns over the puck more than anyone would like, but the QB of Chicago’s ‘D’ will do that considering how often he handles the puck. Brent Seabrook has faded in and out for most of the season, and needs to step up as the best of the rest in the series. Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Michal Roszival have played well enough or better in every game. Oduya is the poor man’s Keith, “Hammer” is as good a defensive defenseman around, and Roszival has played beyond expectations.

 Two defenseman rank high on the sleeper list for this series. Chicago’s Nick Leddy and Detroit’s Carlo Colaiacovo could prove important. Leddy is being groomed as the next stud offensive blueliner in Chicago. After playing below expectations in 2011-12, Leddy has thrived in a smaller role, one that does include extended powerplay time. Colaiacovo missed a majority of 2013 due to injury, and was inserted into Detroit’s series in game six after Danny DeKeyser was injured and Brian Lashoff did nothing of note. His experience and willingness to play any role is invaluable in the playoffs.

Viktor Stalberg sports bank hockey

 Injuries and inconsistency have mired players on both teams. Viktor Stalberg, a main cog on a very good third line in Chicago, has been relegated to wearing the ‘white jersey’ in practice. That designation is for players who are not expected to play next game, or to send a message. Brandon Saad wore the jersey for one practice and reinserted into his usual role. Stalberg, however, has worn it for the past few practices. His spot in the lineup is clearly up in the air.

 Michal Handzus, Chicago’s trade deadline acquisition, has missed practice time for “maintenance,” according to coach Joel Quenneville. Center Dave Bolland and goaltender Ray Emery are expected back for Chicago for the series. Detroit, however, will be without DeKeyser and center Darren Helm for the series. Gritty forward Drew Miller will miss the start of the series for the Wings.

 This series will be fun. One last go-round for hockey’s oldest rivalry before Detroit moves to the Eastern Conference will mean a lot to the teams, organizations, and fans. Hockey needs rivalries like these thriving, especially in the playoffs. That said, Chicago should handle Detroit, sending them east with a bitter taste in their mouths.

 Chicago will win the series against Detroit in six games.

Follow me on Twitter @jeffrotul44 for more sports and entertainment ramblings. If you play fantasy sports, check out The Fantasy Fix, where my weekly column ‘Peaks and Valleys’ covers your add/drop/watch needs during baseball and hockey season.

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