Stanley Cup Playoffs: Conference Finals predictions

FINALLY we have a final four in the NHL. Chicago and Anaheim have been patiently waiting for the Rangers-Capitals series to end, and now it finally has. Quite a comeback by New York against a very good Washington team.

On to the predictions.

144 vs. TampaBayLightning_LOGO

With the Rangers coming off a seven game series and Tampa Bay coming off a grueling six gamer, it’s safe to assume each team is probably dealing with some undisclosed injuries. And, it goes without saying each team could use some rest. All that aside, however, this should be a good series. New York is playing some excellent team defense this postseason while also receiving more great goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist. Against a fast team like Tampa, the Rangers are going to need that defense and goaltending to continue while also trying to clog the neutral zone.

As for the Lightning, it will be interesting to see if their overall inexperience in late playoff series will become a factor. Only two players (Stamkos and Hedman) remain from the 2011 team that lost in seven games to the Bruins in the ECF. One of the guys I just mentioned, a certain number 91, picked up a huge goal in Game 6 against Montreal. If he is beginning to heat up, that will be huge for the Lightning. I don’t see them beating New York without Stamkos being effective. The same goes for their goalie, Ben Bishop.

All in all, I’m expecting a lengthy series here. In the end, however, I think the Rangers are the deeper team with more big game experience.

-New York wins series, 4-2.


Unlike the two teams in the other Conference Final series, the Blackhawks and Ducks come into this one as the two most rested teams remaining. The Ducks have played just nine games this postseason, while the Hawks have played ten. The last time the Blackhawks played was May 7th, and there might not be a team who needed the time off more than them. Their top four defensemen have had to log big minutes through the first two rounds, and they will play even more now that Michal Rozsival is done for the year. They will need more solid defense and continued stellar goaltending in this matchup. Also, their stars need to continue being just that, while also getting production from all four lines like they did in the first two rounds.

The Ducks have two of the game’s best players in Perry and Getzlaf, and if they aren’t producing against Chicago, Anaheim will be in trouble. They have four good lines, but they haven’t gotten the production from them that they would have liked so far. The Ducks lucked out by getting the easiest schedule through the first two rounds, and I am anxious to see how they respond to an elite team like the Hawks. Their defense will be heavily tested, as will Frederik Andersen. Like Perry and Getzlaf, unless Andersen is very good, the Ducks could be in trouble.

Depth, team defense, and late playoff experience will decide this series. As I said in the series preview post regarding these two teams, Chicago has the edge in all three of those categories.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.


Blackhawks – Ducks quick hits

15-_DSC2491-toresizeMy series preview for the Blackhawks and Ducks has already been written and posted. I’m taking the Blackhawks in six games. These are two very good teams, and I’m sure each side would like to earn the bragging rights over the other. For a handful of years now, the Blackhawks and Ducks have finished at or near the top of the Western Conference, but have failed to meet in the playoffs. That all changes now. All signs are pointing towards a Sunday afternoon start time to Game 1 between these two, but the NHL has yet to confirm those rumors.

As I said, I already wrote my preview of this series. Today I’m going to touch on a few things that I failed to mention in my preview. So, here we go.

– I keep seeing statements from NHL analysts and reporters that read something like “The Ducks have been the most dominant team in this year’s playoffs.” Sure, they swept their first round series against the Jets and proceeded to eliminate the Flames in five games. Of all teams to advance to their respective conference final, the Ducks have played the fewest games this postseason. But let’s take a closer look at who Anaheim has played so far.

In the first round they got matched up against the West’s number two wild card team in the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets finished the regular season with 99 points and were making their first postseason appearance since the franchise returned to Winnipeg. The Jets were a good team and a big team, but not a great team. They were made up of a majority of players who were new to the playoffs.

Against the Jets, Anaheim saw themselves trailing heading into the third period on more than one occasion, and also needed overtime of Game 3 to pull out a victory. Nonetheless, they swept Winnipeg when most people didn’t think they would.

In the second round, it was the 97-point Flames that the Ducks went up against. Those 97 points were the fewest point total of any team to make this year’s postseason. I have nothing against Calgary and applaud them for the incredible season that they had, but they weren’t exactly a tough team to beat in a seven game series.

The Flames’ roster is/was full of young players who had never played in a playoff game prior to this spring. Needless to say, they were full of inexperienced players who happened to get on a bit of a roll this year and made it to the second round of the playoffs. Statistically, Calgary really didn’t have much business being in the postseason. Yet against the Ducks, the Flames put up a heck of fight in games 3 through 5 and could have easily won at least one more game than they did.

Here’s the point I’m trying to make:

If you want to call the Ducks’ performance so far this postseason “dominating,” then fine. Go ahead and do so. Just know that they have had the league’s easiest schedule so far in these playoffs. When they face the Blackhawks, they won’t be going up against a bunch of first, second, or third year players with no playoff experience. They won’t be playing a team who struggles to win road games, or home games for that matter, at this time of year. The Blackhawks are probably the most playoff-experienced team in hockey and have two Stanley Cup rings in the last five seasons to show for it. They will provide Anaheim with all they can handle and should act as a rude wakeup call for a Ducks team that has had it pretty easy so far in these playoffs.

 Let’s take a look at the Blackhawks now and how they did in their first two series.

In round one, it was the Nashville Predators that fell victim to the Hawks. Nashville, the team that led the Western Conference in points for most of the season and finished sixth league-wide in that category, couldn’t put up with the Hawks. They won two games over Chicago, both at home, but didn’t have the depth to walk away victorious at the end of the series.

Nashville has an incredible group of defensemen; arguably the best in the league. Yet they couldn’t hold down the Blackhawks’ offensive firepower. Nor could their Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne.

In the second round, the Hawks went up against the Minnesota Wild. Many considered the Wild to be the hottest team in the NHL heading into that series. They posted the best record in the league from January through the end of the season, and knocked out a Stanley Cup favorite in the St. Louis Blues in round one. Like Nashville, the Wild also had a Vezina finalist standing in their goal crease.

Yet, like Nashville, Minnesota couldn’t handle Chicago’s offensive firepower or depth. They also couldn’t seem to solve the Blackhawks’ defense or Corey Crawford.

When you look at who the Ducks and Hawks played in each of the first two rounds, and when you look at what both teams did to their opponents, one could easily argue that the Blackhawks were the more “dominant” team.

Some people may read this and get the impression that I’m hating on the Ducks or that I am biased towards the Blackhawks. That is not the case. I am simply sick of reading all of this crap about how incredible the Ducks have been this postseason when in actuality they’ve had the easiest schedule of anyone.

I honestly expect this series between Chicago and Anaheim to be a very competitive one. The Ducks are big and fast with a couple of world class players on their top two lines. The Blackhawks are not as big, but are also a very quick team and possess even more world class players than the Ducks.

As I said in my preview, this series will come down to depth, team defense, and experience, and I would give the Blackhawks the upper hand in each category.

Blackhawks – Ducks preview

Patrick Kane, Frederik AndersenThis year’s Western Conference Final features some familiar faces, and some not so familiar faces. On the one hand, we’ve got the Chicago Blackhawks who are making their fifth appearance in the WCF in the last seven years. On the other hand, there’s the Anaheim Ducks. The last time the Ducks made it this far in the postseason was 2007 when they eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup. Of the players on that ’07 team, only three remain.

The Ducks finished this season tied with the Blues for the most points in the Western Conference (109) and held the tiebreaker over St. Louis thus giving them the top spot in the conference. So clearly, they’re a solid team. But what about them makes them so good?

Well, they’ve got one of the best lines in all of the NHL. That line features the star names of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, as well as Patrick Maroon. While most average fans may not be familiar with Maroon, he is no pushover. The 6’2″, 230 pound winger can play a bruising game while also owning the ability to put the puck in the net. He’s not Getzlaf or Perry, but he is a nice complement to them. As for Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, they are playing some great hockey this postseason. Perry leads the league with 15 points these playoffs, and Getzlaf is not far behind with 12.

Their second line consists of Matt Beleskey, Ryan Kesler, and Jakob Silfverberg. Silfverberg and Kesler rank third and fourth on the team in points this postseason, while Beleskey has just 5 of his own. All of his 5 points, however, are goals. This line is a pretty stellar defensive line, which is no surprise seeing as how Ryan Kesler is a former Selke Trophy winner.

The third and fourth lines of the Ducks are good, but not really great. They have some nice players such as Andrew Cogliano and Nate Thompson, but they just haven’t seemed to be able to generate a whole lot so far. The majority of Anaheim’s offense is provided by their top two lines.

Defensively, the Ducks are weak. This is most likely their achilles heel.

Hampus Lindholm, Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler, and Sami Vatanen are all pretty solid d-men when the play is in the offensive zone. They can generate from the blue line and contribute to the team’s offensive success. It’s when they are forced to defend in their own zone that these guys often find themselves in trouble. Both Winnipeg and Calgary were able to exploit this at times already this postseason, but neither team possessed enough offensive firepower to really make the Ducks pay. A team like the Blackhawks will make Anaheim pay for their lack of quality defensive defensemen.

In goal, the Ducks are riding the hot play of Frederik Andersen. During the first two round of the playoffs, Andersen posted a 1.96 goals against average and a .925 save percentage. Both of those statistics are respectable and deserve some recognition. Like most of his teammates, however, Andersen has never played this deep into the postseason. How he handles the pressure of playing in the Western Conference Final remains to be seen.

As for the Blackhawks, they come into this series fresh off a sweep of the Minnesota Wild, who many considered the hottest team in hockey heading into the second round. In beating the Wild, not only did the Hawks beat a very good team, but they also knocked out another Vezina Trophy finalist in Devan Dubnyk (Chicago beat Pekka Rinne in round one). Against two finalists for the best goaltender in the NHL during the regular season, the Blackhawks made both look mediocre at best.

Offensively, the Hawks have been led by Patrick Kane, who has 13 points this postseason and has scored at least one goal in five straight games. The team’s top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews, and Marian Hossa has been very good and usually outplays whichever line is matched against them. That’s not really hard to believe when you consider that line has two future Hall of Famers.

The second line of Bryan Bickell, Brad Richards, and Patrick Kane has been good as well, although mostly because of Patrick Kane. The Hawks could really use a hot stretch from Bickell, who has earned a name for himself with his postseason performances the last two seasons. Even despite his lack of offensive production, Bickell has been a one man wrecking ball through the first two rounds with his physical play. That will need to continue.

The Blackhawks’ bottom two lines are what could put them over the top in this series. Their third line of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, and Teuvo Teravainen was outstanding against Minnesota. When they play the way they did in the second round, they’re basically a top two line. Due to the acquisition of Vermette at the trade deadline, it has allowed Joel Quenneville to move Andrew Shaw from the third line center position to the fourth line right wing spot; his natural position. This, along with the unexpected chemistry shown from Andrew Desjardins (another trade deadline acquisition) with his fourth line linemates, Marcus Kruger and Shaw, has made Chicago’s fourth line extremely valuable this postseason. They not only get matched up against the opposing team’s top line most of the time, but they also have been consistently creating offense. You can’t ask for much more from your fourth line.

The biggest reason Chicago did not defeat L.A. in last year’s WCF was because they couldn’t effectively roll four lines. This year they can and are arguably the deepest team in hockey at the forward position.

On defense, the Blackhawks have their usual top guys of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya. They are just about as good of a top four as you’ll find in the NHL. It’s the fifth and sixth defensemen where the Hawks run in to some problems. Now that Michal Rozsival is done for the season with a fractured ankle, Kimmo Timonen will be forced to pick up some more minutes, which at 40 years old is more of a challenge than it sounds. Also, Rozsival’s injury means David Rundblad will be joining the lineup. Rundblad will most likely be paired with Duncan Keith, something that we saw a lot of during the regular season. The problem with Rundblad is that he can be a turnover machine. He absolutely must be smarter with the puck and not cost his team in this series.

The goaltending for the Hawks is actually better than what most people might think. After a rough first round, Corey Crawford has regained his regular season form and is playing at the top of his game. In the four games against the Wild in the second round, Crawford allowed just 7 goals. A couple of those goals came in the final minutes of Game Four when Minnesota was forced into desperation mode. Another 3 of those 7 goals came in the second period of Game 1. Needless to say, for nearly the entirety of the four games against the Wild, Corey Crawford was outstanding.

So now that we’ve briefly gone over each team’s make-up, here’s how this series will be won:

  • Depth. Depth is a must in the playoffs, and especially when you get to this stage. Whichever team gets better play from their third and fourth lines will likely have an advantage.
  • Special Teams. Both Chicago and Anaheim struggles on the powerplay during the regular season. During these playoffs, however, the Ducks have had the best powerplay in the league while converting 31% of the time. The Hawks rank fifth with a 20% conversion rate. On the penalty kill, the Ducks currently rank fifth, and the Hawks twelfth. After leading the NHL in PK percentage for most of the season, the Blackhawks saw their penalty kill percentage significantly drop over the final month. They haven’t really turned that trend around yet this postseason. Scoring on the powerplay could prove to be a huge part of this series.
  • Goaltending. This one’s kind of obvious, but needs to be mentioned. You can’t win the Cup without receiving stellar goaltending. Both goalies in this series are coming in hot. The question becomes who will falter?
  • Experience. Here is where Chicago has a big advantage. Their players and coaches have been here before, and most of them have won at least one Stanley Cup. The same cannot be said of the Ducks or their coaches. Bruce Boudreau is making his first ever appearance in a Conference Final, and it will be interesting to see whether or not he can come close to matching the smarts of Joel Quenneville in this series. Aside from that, having been here many times before should give the Blackhawks an advantage when it comes to winning on the road. The Hawks always get at least one important road victory per series.

After all of that, here’s my prediction.

The top two lines of each team will play to a draw, or close to it, in this series, and the Blackhawks will receive the better production from their bottom two lines than the Ducks. Defensively, the Hawks’ forwards will burn the Ducks d-men and create an abundance of scoring chances; something that Andersen has not been used to these playoffs. This isn’t the Calgary Flames anymore that Anaheim is going up against… Unless Andersen plays out of his mind, the Hawks should see some great offensive production. The team defense of the Hawks is very good, and should limit the number of good chances against Corey Crawford. As long as Crawford comes up with the necessary saves, the Hawks should be alright.

Depth, overall team defense, and experience should put the Blackhawks over the top against the Ducks.

Hawks in six.

Blackhawks, Central Division update

15-_DSC2491-toresizeTonight the Blackhawks host the Blues in what is hands down the single biggest game of the season, so far. The Blackhawks currently sit third in the Central Division with 102 points, while the Blues are in second with 103. The first place Predators, meanwhile, have played one more game (79) than both the Hawks and Blues, but only hold a one point lead over St. Louis in the standings. Needless to say, things have become pretty crammed in this division, which makes tonight’s game between the Hawks and Blues as large as it is. If the Blackhawks win in regulation, they will own sole possession of second place in the Central. If they win in overtime or a shootout, all three teams atop the division will be tied with 104 points through the same amount of games.

I would expect tonight’s matchup at the United Center to be as close to a playoff atmosphere as a game can get without it actually being the playoffs. Both Chicago and St. Louis understand how important and crucial it can be to end up with home ice advantage in the playoffs, especially if the two teams end up playing each other in the first round. At the same time, both teams are also aiming for first in the division. With Nashville not playing their best hockey lately, it has allowed both the Hawks and Blues to realistically set their sights on winning the Central. So there are two pretty big things partially at stake tonight. I say partially because the Hawks and Blues meet again on Thursday, with that game being in St. Louis.

While winning the division seems like it should be the obvious desire for each team in the Central, it may not be. Here’s why:

With the Ducks most likely finishing as the top team in the West, that means the Central Division winner will get the number one wild card team. That team just happens to be the red hot Minnesota Wild, who look like they have that position locked up. The Wild have been arguably the NHL’s best team since they signed Devan Dubnyk a couple of months back, and I can guarantee you that no one wants them as a first round opponent.

Let’s say that hypothetically the Ducks slip up here in the last week of the season and the Central Division winner ends up as the top team in the West. They would then get the number two wild card team. If the season ended today, that team would be the defending champion L.A. Kings who always seem to become a completely different team come playoff time. Again, no one would welcome that first round matchup. The Winnipeg Jets are actually tied with the Kings in points right now (the Kings hold the tie breaker) with the same number of games played, and depending on how the final week of the season plays out, they could end up with the number two wild card spot. While I’m sure everyone would rather take on Winnipeg than L.A., the Jets are no pushover. Just ask the Blackhawks who have only beaten the Jets once this year.

So while winning the division sounds nice, the reality is that whoever wins the Central will most likely have a first round date with Minnesota, or possibly L.A. or Winnipeg.

As for the second and third place finishers in the division, they’ll play each other in the first round. If I am the Blackhawks, I think the best case scenario is taking second in the division with Nashville finishing third. Playing St. Louis in the opening round is not the best idea, especially with Patrick Kane likely out until at least the second round (although Quenneville has NOT ruled him out for round one). Pekka Rinne always has the ability to beat a team on his own, and the Hawks have struggled offensively lately, but I would still take that matchup over one with the Blues.

I hesitate even discussing a topic like this because the second you say you’d prefer to play one team over another, they beat you. That’s just how sports generally seem to work for whatever reason.

This is going to be one hell of a finish to the season over the next week. Tonight’s game between the Blackhawks and Blues means a ton to both teams, as well as the Predators. Obviously it’s still too early to say who will finish where in the standings, but tonight will give us a good idea of who may want “it” more.

Blackhawks-Ducks preview

130107_gq_trout_aTonight the Blackhawks play host to the red hot Anaheim Ducks, who are currently tied with Montreal for the league’s lead in points with 14. The Blackhawks come into this game having lost two of their last three games, while the Ducks enter the night fresh off a lopsided loss to the Sharks on Sunday snapping their seven game win streak. These two teams have been pegged by many to be the top two teams in the Western Conference this season, and tonight will be our first look at how they match up with one another.

Before I get to talking about the Hawks, a couple of story lines surrounding the Ducks heading into tonight’s game are Ryan Kesler, John Gibson, and the play of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry.

This will be Kesler’s first game against the Blackhawks as a member of the Ducks, and it is the first time he’ll be facing the Hawks since their supposed pursuit of him this past summer. Kesler’s presence in the Anaheim lineup makes the Ducks one of the deepest teams in all of hockey at the center position, something the Blackhawks tried to improve upon this offseason with the acquisition of Brad Richards. Kesler, as we all know, is one of the game’s best two-way forwards, as well as one of the most physical and toughest guys to play against. Going back to his days in Vancouver, Kesler has a very deep disliking for the Hawks, so it’ll be interesting to see if that carries over into tonight’s action.

As for John Gibson, he’ll be the Ducks’ starting goalie tonight. He has made a total of 5 starts in his NHL career (2 this year). With this being such a big game for both teams early on in the season, I thought we’d be seeing Frederik Andersen between the pipes for the Ducks, but I guess Bruce Boudreau wants to give Gibson a chance to prove himself against one of the league’s best teams.

Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are tearing it up right now. Both players have 12 points through their first 9 games, and Corey Perry leads the NHL with 9 goals. To compare, Patrick Sharp leads the Blackhawks with 3 goals and 8 points. As a result of Getzlaf and Perry’s hot starts, among some other things, the Ducks are averaging 3.22 goals per game this year. Tonight will be a huge test for the Blackhawks in trying to stop those two.

Okay, now to the Hawks.

It has been somewhat of an up and down start to the year for them, and they currently sit at 5-2-1, which is good for fourth in the West. The biggest positive that we’ve seen from the Blackhawks up to this point has been their ability to keep the puck out of their own net. They are third in the league in goals against per game (1.75) and penalty kill percentage (92%). What needs to improve is their powerplay, which has only converted 20% of the time this year (good for 15th in the league). Their lack of production with the man advantage is a huge reason why they are only averaging 2.62 goals per game so far, which leaves them ranked 16th in that category.

It hasn’t just been the powerplay that has disappointed thus far. The Blackhawks, believe it or not, are 24th in the NHL in 5 on 5 goals this year. They’ve only scored 11 times at even strength, which is very troublesome for a team with so much talent. Last game against Ottawa was the first time the Blackhawks scored during the second period this season. If it wasn’t for their great goaltending and defense, their record could look a lot different.

940-couture-loganSpeaking of the goaltending, Scott Darling will be making his second straight start tonight. He got his first ever win in his first ever NHL start against the Senators on Sunday, winning 2-1. He stopped 32 of the 33 shots that he faced and did a real nice job of cutting down the shooting angles and moving side to side from post to post against the Senators. He is 6’6″, 232 pounds and looks even bigger when standing in the crease. Hopefully he can continue using his size to his advantage. If he puts together another solid outing tonight, it’ll be interesting to see which direction the Blackhawks decide to go with their backup goalie once Crawford returns to the lineup. While Raanta has a ton of talent, his lack of size and vulnerability of getting pushed around in the crease puts him at a disadvantage when compared to Crawford and Darling.

The lines will look a little different than they did last game. As of now, Quenneville has them as Bickell-Toews-Hossa, Saad-Shaw-Kane, Sharp-Richards-Versteeg, Smith-Kruger-Morin. I like seeing that second line reunited. Saad does not belong on the third or fourth line, which is where he had played the last two games, and I love him being paired with Patrick Kane.

Tonight should definitely be a good test for both the Ducks and Hawks, as both teams will be using this game as a measuring stick to see where they currently stand. If you’re looking for something else to watch for in tonight’s game, keep your eyes on Marian Hossa. He currently has 998 career points, leaving him 2 shy of a huge milestone.

Message delivered

463371287_slideFriday night’s showdown between the Ducks and Blackhawks at the United Center was just that: a showdown of arguably the top two teams in the NHL. Anaheim came into the game with a record of 18-1-0 over their previous 19 games, while the Hawks entered Friday night’s contest struggling a bit lately with a record of 4-1-5 in their last 10. Prior to Friday’s game against Anaheim, the Blackhawks really looked like a team going through the dog days of the regular season. They had little energy in their game and they weren’t playing nearly as well as they are capable. Maybe it was the fact that they were playing the team with the league’s best record, or maybe they simply got back to their normal style of domination, but whatever it was, the Blackhawks were themselves again Friday night at the UC.

Marian Hossa started the scoring about halfway through the first period when he registered his 28th career shorthanded goal to give the Hawks a 1-0 lead. Incredibly, this was the first lead that the Blackhawks had in any game since January 3rd in New Jersey. Then near the end of the first, some great forechecking and hustle from Kris Versteeg led to the puck ending up in the back of Anaheim’s net. Versteeg was credited with his first goal in 10 games.

The second period saw no scoring, but a lot of domination by the team wearing red. The Hawks seemingly had possession of the puck for about 15 minutes of the 20 that were played in the second period, but just couldn’t find the back of the net.

In the third period, Bryan Bickell scored what appeared to be the put-away goal about ten minutes in. That wasn’t the case, however. Anaheim immediately stepped up their game and struck for two goals in a span of less than a minute to bring themselves within one with about 6 minutes left in regulation. They would continue pressuring the Hawks until they finally had to pull Jonas Hiller for the extra attacker. With 8 seconds left in the game, Marian Hossa scored on the empty net for the Hawks fourth and final goal.

So, here were my observations in this one:

  • This may have been the best all around game that the Hawks’ defensemen have played all season. I don’t think you can say that one of their d-men had a bad game. Keith was all over the ice as usual, Seabrook actually stayed on his feet the whole 463372659_slidegame, Oduya was good on the PK, Rozsival was really active in the offensive zone and saw some time on the powerplay, and Nick Leddy played one of his best games as a pro in my opinion, offensively and defensively. Hjalmarsson was his usual self until he committed a terrible turnover inside the Ducks’ blue line that resulted in Anaheim’s first goal. Aside from that mishap, however, the Blackhawks’ defense was outstanding and really dictated how this game would be played. 
  • Marian Hossa stayed red hot with two more goals against the Ducks. He now has 18 on the year and 4 in his last 4 games. Hossa continues to prove he is possibly the game’s best two-way player.
  • Corey Crawford was solid Friday night with the exception of Anaheim’s second goal. He made another highlight reel save in this game with Corey Perry being the victim this time. This was Corey’s first win since returning from injury, but not because of his play. He has been very, very good since coming back to the lineup, but the Hawks’ defense has not until Friday night.
  • Brandon Bollig. I continue to lay awake at night wondering why this guy is still in the NHL, let alone on a team with so much talent in its system. He is not good defensively, and he is basically a liability on offense. If you watch the Hawks on a regular basis, you’ll notice that his linemates try their best not to pass him the puck unless they have to. He has close to zero skill except for a hard wrist shot, and cannot be trusted in crucial points of the game. I honestly believe that if the Hawks were to put Jeremy Morin or Brandon Pirri on that fourth line in place of Bollig that it would become one of the top fourth lines in the league. Bollig drags the line down that much.
  • Somewhat similar to Bollig is Michael Handzus. What has this guy done for the team lately? Did you even notice him Friday night against Anaheim? I know he ended up being a big factor in the playoffs last season, but that was still last season. This is now, and he is an anchor in that lineup. He is too slow to be effective in the Hawks’ style of play, he isn’t even close being physical enough given his size, and when he’s not winning faceoffs he’s pretty much useless. Yes, he has had his good moments on the penalty kill this year, but you can’t tell me that there’s no one else in the organization with more skill who could do Zus’s job on the PK. Like Bollig, he’s more of a liability than an asset in my eyes.
  • 463381741_slideBryan Bickell finally scored against the Ducks. That was just his second tally since returning from injury. He also had one of his best hits of the season Friday night, only his teammate Kris Versteeg was the victim. Versteeg missed the entire third period as a result but was back on the ice today for practice.

Looking ahead, the Hawks play host to the Bruins tomorrow morning for what will be the first game between these two teams since Game 6 of last year’s SCF. Boston is one of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference again this year, so the Blackhawks will have to bring their A-game again in this one. You better believe the Bruins will be looking for revenge in this game.

Blackhawks fall in Anaheim

164216744_slideLast night’s game between the Ducks and Blackhawks in Anaheim lived up to its hype. Everyone was hoping and expecting to see a fast-paced, close, and exciting game, and was it ever. Unfortunately for us Hawks fans, the result was not what we were hoping for.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the third period of last night’s game, just like they did in the first meeting between these two teams back in early February. In that game, the Ducks scored a late third period goal to tie the game, and then went on to win in a shootout. Last night’s game did not go to a shootout, but the Ducks did score late, and they did win.

With a litter over 5 minutes left in the game, Bobby Ryan scored the game-tying goal after Corey Crawford gave up a big rebound off of a Ryan Getzlaf shot from the right circle. There was really no way for Crawford to avoid giving up the rebound.

Then just 64 seconds later, Teemu Selanne scored after a bad Blackhawks turnover, and the Ducks were up 3-2. In a matter of seconds, the Hawks went from having the lead to trailing in the game.

Sheldon Souray would add an empty net goal with 21 seconds left in the game to make it 4-2.

So, what did we learn from last night’s game?

Jonathan Toews is a beast. This is something that we knew already, but I just want to reiterate it. His shorthanded goal last night (much like the one against Colorado a couple of weeks ago) was a perfect example of him outworking and out-hustling everyone else on the ice to score a goal. Toews is arguably the best two-way forward in the game, and he proved this once again last night.

We also learned that the Hawks still have not fixed their late-game issues. Too many times this year, the Blackhawks have blown, or come close to blowing their leads late in games. I mentioned this in an earlier blog this year, and things have not changed. Just to point out a couple examples of this, look back at their games against the Ducks on Feb. 12 , L.A. on Feb. 17, Vancouver on Feb. 19, and last night’s game in Anaheim. Last night was the only one of those games that they lost, but in the other three, the Hawks almost cost themselves the game because of allowing late goals to the opposition. What I have noticed is that sometimes while playing with the lead in the third period, the Hawks will revert to playing strictly defense. It is as though they have decided to try and play “keep away” instead of continuing to attack the other team and add to their lead. Last night the Blackhawks did a better job of trying to add to their lead, but they still gave up 2 late goals that cost them the game.

Another thing that we learned by watching the Hawks and Ducks play last night is that the Ducks are a much bigger, more physical team. Come playoff time, that is going to benefit the Ducks in a big way. Right now, the Blackhawks are a great regular season team. They have a ton of speed and skill, as well as a good defense and two decent goalies. In the 164215175_slideregular season, those things will get you a lot of wins. Come playoff time, however, the game becomes much more physical. Games are won and lost along the boards and hitting becomes a major factor in the outcomes of games. The Ducks are built perfectly for the playoffs. They have a number of big, physical forwards and defensemen who are not afraid to throw their bodies around and try to hit guys through the glass. That includes their star players like Perry, Ryan, and Getzlaf. The Blackhawks are not like that. Their game revolves around speed and finesse players. The star players of the Hawks are not nearly as physical as those of the Ducks. Unless they improve on their size and toughness before the playoffs, this is going to be a big issue for the Blackhawks in the postseason. That is a fact.

I am not saying that the Hawks are going to be bounced from the first round again like they were the last two years, but if they meet up against a team like Anaheim (or Boston for that matter..) in the playoffs, they are going to have some trouble with their physical forwards and defensemen.

For the time being, however, these four days off should really benefit the Hawks. Patrick Kane needs as much rest as he can get after double-shifting in Marian Hossa’s absence the last two games. Hopefully Hossa will be back in the lineup for Monday night’s game against L.A., who oh by the way, has regained its Stanley Cup form from a year ago.

Thanks for reading.

On the Brink of History

161923285_slideWith Sunday’s 3-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings, the Blackhawks made it 15 straight games to start the season without a regulation loss. The 2006-2007 Anaheim Ducks set the all-time record for consecutive games to start a season without a regulation loss at 16 games. If the Blackhawks can avoid losing to the Canucks in regulation tomorrow night, they will tie that record.

The only 2 teams in NHL history to make it at least 15 games without a regulation loss (1984-1985 Oilers and the Ducks) both won the Stanley Cup. While that is an interesting statistic and one that bodes well for the Hawks, it really means nothing. There is a lot of season left and then the playoffs, so a lot can still happen.

Right now, the Blackhawks are 3 games into their 7-game homestand and are 2-0-1 in those 3 games. In their first home game of this 7-game stretch, last Tuesday against the Ducks, the Hawks lost 3-2 in a shootout. They had a 2-1 lead heading into the third, but then allowed the Ducks to score with only a few minutes left in regulation, which sent the game to OT.

Friday night against San Jose, the Blackhawks dominated from start to finish and won 4-1. Even though the Sharks were, and still are in the midst of a free fall, that was a good win for the Hawks against a Sharks team that started the season 7-0. Jonathan Toews really helped to set the tone in that game by fighting a much bigger and much tougher Joe Thornton.

Yesterday, the Hawks continued their winning ways by defeating the Kings 3-2. The Blackhawks looked great through the first 40 minutes of the game, but then let their guard down in the third period and allowed L.A. 2 powerplay goals.

If there has been a weakness of the Blackhawks this season, it has been their recent trend of letting teams back into the game in the third period. Last Tuesday against the Ducks, the Blackhawks really controlled much of the first 2 periods. Then came the third period, and the Hawks seemed to resort to strictly playing defense and clearing the puck out of their own zone. It looked as though they had no interest in burying the Ducks with a huge third goal, and instead were intent on defending their own net for the last 20 minutes. As a result, the Ducks tied the game and won in a shootout. Yesterday was the same story.

After absolutely dominating the defending champs through the first 2 periods and leading by a score of 3-0, the Hawks backed off again in the third, took a couple bad penalties, and before you knew it were only up by 1 goal. If it wasn’t for the clock running out at the end of the game, I am sure that L.A. would have tied it had they had another 2 minutes to play. The Hawks were lucky to get out of there with a win, and only because the Kings ran out of time at the end of the game.

Moving forward, the Blackhawks are going to need to develop and consistently display that “killer” instinct of putting away their opponents when they have a late lead. They cannot continue to let other teams gain momentum in the third period and steal games from them that the Hawks should have won.

Having said all of that, the Blackhawks are still 12-0-3 and lead the NHL with 27 points. They have beaten many good teams already this year and are showing no signs of slowing down. Their powerplay has picked up a couple of goals now over the last few games, which is encouraging, but their penalty kill gave up 2 third period goals yesterday to the Kings. I guess you can’t always be perfect.

keslerTomorrow night will be another big game for the Hawks as they welcome Vancouver to town for the first time this season. The Canucks have played pretty well lately and just got Ryan Kesler back from injury. On top of that, their whole goalie “controversy” seems to have evaporated as both Luongo and Schneider are playing very good as of late. Although the last meeting between these two teams wasn’t as physical as most fans would have expected, all it takes is one little spark to set off the always-present hatred between the two sides.

Interesting stat: Since acquiring Johnny Oduya at last year’s trade deadline, the Blackhawks’ record is 24-2-7 with him in the lineup.