Blackhawks advance, wait for next opponent

130107_gq_trout_aWell, prior to the Blackhawks-Blues series I had predicted that the Hawks would come away victorious in six games. Turns out I was dead on, but that’s not quite how I expected the series to go. I was thinking more along the lines of each team winning one road game over the first four games, then the Hawks winning games 5 and 6. The latter came true, but I really didn’t think the Hawks would win four straight after going down 0-2 after the first two games. It doesn’t really matter though, a win is a win and I’ll take it.

The first two games of the series were won by the Blues, not lost by the Hawks. The Blues outplayed the Blackhawks in each of the first two games in St. Louis and wound up winning both in overtime (Game 1 in triple OT). With Brent Seabrook beginning his three game suspension, the series shifted to Chicago for games three and four, both won by the Blackhawks. Game 3 saw the Hawks dominate the first ten minutes, and then proceed to get badly outplayed for the remaining fifty. If not for Corey Crawford playing out of his mind, the Blues would have won that game 5-1. Instead, the Hawks won 2-0. Game 4 was more evenly matched, as the Hawks tied the game 3-3 late in regulation and went on to win in overtime, thanks to another memorable Patrick Kane goal. Game 5 was the big one.

139990-330-0Up to this point in the season, Game 5 against St. Louis was the biggest win of the year for the Blackhawks. The really did not want to go down 3-2 in the series and have to win a Game 7 in St. Louis. The Hawks struck first on a Hossa’s first goal of the playoffs, and got their second goal from Ben Smith, also his first of the playoffs. St. Louis tied it early in the third and the game ended up going to overtime for the fourth time in the series. After a good save by Crawford on David Backes, Duncan Keith’s frantic clearing attempt wound up on the tape of Jonathan Toews’ stick, and all that he had in front of him was open ice. Toews’, the one guy the Blues didn’t want on a breakaway in OT, scored to win the game and send the Hawks home up 3-2 in the series.

Game 6 was tied 1-1 going into the third before the Hawks blew it open and won 5-1. There may not be a better team in the NHL at putting teams away when they smell blood in the water. Duncan Keith played what Joel Quenneville called the best game he’s seen him play and recorded four points. Today, Keith was nominated for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league’s best defenseman.

So now we wait. The Hawks will get the winner of the Avalanche-Wild series in the second round. That series is currently being led by the Avs, 3-2. Tonight is Game 6, and I think all Hawks fans are hoping for a Minnesota victory for two reasons. One, the Wild are a much more desirable second round opponent than Colorado. Two, if the Wild win then there will be a Game 7, meaning each team will have to play that much more hockey before facing the Hawks.

Here’s the problem with facing the Avalanche. They’re fast (maybe the fastest in the league), and they force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game whenever the two teams meet. This season especially, Colorado’s speed and quickness up and down the ice has really given the Blackhawks fits, not to mention their incredible skill. While the Hawks have proven at times that they can be a successful team playing the chip-and-chase game, they prefer not to. Add this to the fact that the Avs would have the home-ice advantage, meaning the Hawks would have to play in the high altitude potentially four times, and I see some possible problems. However, the Wild may still win the series. While I would prefer that, the second you wish to play a certain opponent, they beat you.

Quick Hits

  • Duncan Keith, Zdeno Chara, and Shea Weber were named this year’s Norris Trophy finalists today. I think Alex Pietrangelo got ripped off here, as he put together one hell of a season for St. Louis (8G, 43A, 20 +/-). He’s bound to win the Norris in the future.
  • Anaheim, Boston, Chicago, and Montreal have all punched their ticket to the second round. Anaheim’s comeback in Game 6 over Dallas was one for the ages. The Boston-Montreal second round matchup is one to keep a close eye on. I think the Habs have the best shot of anyone in the East at knocking out the Bruins, and that includes the Penguins.
  • St. Louis has now been booted from the postseason in the first round two years in a row by the defending Cup champs in 6 games. Both years they had home-ice advantage, both years they won the first two games, and both years they lost the last four. Talk about back-to-back demoralizing defeats…
  • 18 year-old rookie Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche leads the postseason in points with 10. He is already being compared to Sidney Crosby. Colorado’s top line of MacKinnon, Stastny, and Landeskog has been lethal at times during this first round. Matt Duchene could be back in the lineup any day now.
  • The Sharks, after taking a commanding 3-0 lead over the Kings, have dropped two straight games. Game 6 is tonight in LA. The Sharks are looking to avoid what would be a miraculous comeback by the Kings in that series.

The second round of the playoffs is right around the corner, and I can’t wait.

 

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