NHL Playoff Preview: Blackhawks in for a Canucks Killing?


I am going to be completely honest: I did not see the Blackhawks actually clinching a spot this year. But the Chi-town boys are back in the playoffs, and now that they’re here (despite all the obits being written following the loss to the Red Wings) they are of course the returning Stanley Cup champions.

The first round of playoffs matches them with the Vancouver Canucks, with whom they have an interesting recent rivalry. For the past two years, the Blackhawks have ended it for the Canucks; knocking Vancouver out in six games in the second round both times.

This year, however, things seem to be quite different.

By Harrini Krishnan

First of all, since the last postseason, the Hawks had to jettison 11 players just to stay under the salary cap. This included goalie Antti Niemi, forward Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, and agitators like Andrew Ladd and Adam Burish; who kept the Sedin twins at bay.

Then, there’s the growing injured reserve. Dave Bolland’s been out for a month now, missing the last 14 games of the regular season, and it’s still uncertain if he will play again. He was the driving force on the defensive end and would be a needed asset against the Canucks. Then, there’s forward, Troy Brouwer, out with a shoulder injury.

Let’s not forget that if it weren’t for Minnesota’s uncharacteristic victory over the Dallas the other night, the Hawks wouldn’t be here.

On the other hand, the Canucks have statistically surged to new levels. They have set franchise records for road wins, points and victories, with 26, 54 and 117 respectively, and won the President’s Trophy. They lead the league with the fewest goals allowed, powerplay percentage, penalty killing and goals. No club, since the ’67-’68 season, has finished first in all four categories.

Last year, the Canucks basically handed the Hawks a run of powerplays in both games 3 and 4. With their new-found maturity and depth on the defensive side, Vancouver is as prepared as they’re going to be.

“If you learn from the past there’s a good chance the future will be different,” Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault said.

“We’ve proven a lot of things during the regular season and now it’s our turn to try and prove it in the playoffs.”

So far, things look depressing for the Hawks. They seem miserably outmatched. But, for every cloud there’s always a silver lining or two, or three.

Silver lining #1: Corey Crawford

It’s safe to say that this 26-year-old rookie goalie is the reason they’re even still in contention. He enters the playoffs with a damn good 33-16-6 record, a .917 save percentage, 2.3 goals against average and four shutouts. It would be no surprise to anyone he’s even in the running for a Calder Memorial Trophy. He may be just a rookie but he plays like a champ, which is more than I can say about some veterans on the team.

Silver lining #2: The Fab Five

Despite the insane amount of offensive depth the Hawks have lost this season, it all comes back to the first unit: Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook. With 258 goals, they’re the fourth best in the league while averaging 3.07 per game. Also, the triple threat—Toews, Kane and Sharp—have clinched more than 70 points this season.

Silver lining #3: Coach Q

Vigneault is good. Quenneville is better. Vigneault likes to let the players run free and do whatever they need to do to win games. Quenneville keeps his boys on a leash, and has trained them well to jump to action when he says to. Sure Vigneault has had better luck this season but come playoff time, he’s got nothing on Coach Q. Quenneville’s not afraid to mess around with the lines to find the perfect matches and plays them, with careful deliberation, against opponents’ weaknesses. He knows how to work the post-season games and he knows what it takes to bring home the cup. So, worst comes to worst, we still have one of the best coaches in the league.

I would like to believe that this could get us through at least the first round, but I would be sadly disillusioned. But who knows? Think David beating Goliath, the Christians over the Romans, or the 1980 Olympic men’s hockey team destroying the Soviets. Sometimes, the underdogs win.

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