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.

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Late-game magic in Calgary for the Blackhawks

184164326_slideOne of the best, most improbable victories for the Blackhawks during last season’s epic 24-game point streak to start the season took place in Calgary. Ray Emery single handedly won that game for the Hawks, a game in which they had no business winning. The Flames badly outplayed the Blackhawks from start to almost the finish, but ended up allowing Marian Hossa to tie the game with under 5 seconds remaining in the third. The Blackhawks would end up winning in a shootout. Last night, the Hawks pulled off another improbable victory at the expense of the Flames in Calgary.

Unlike last season’s miracle win in northern Alberta, last night’s game was much more evenly contested. The Hawks did not play bad by any means, but they weren’t at their best either. The Flames on the other hand, they did play a very good game by their standards. They held a 1-0 lead entering the third period, and would score again just a few minutes into the third to take a 2-0 advantage. It looked as though this would be a disappointing loss for the Hawks once they went down by 2.

Then with almost 10 minutes gone in the period, Patrick Kane took a bad angled shot from Flames goalie Reto Berra’s right that deflected off a Calgary stick and went into the net. This brought the Hawks to within one and gave them some momentum, something they hadn’t really had all night.

Not even a minute later, Patrick Sharp tied the game on a redirect after a beautiful backhand pass from Hossa through the slot. Just like that, the game was tied and the Flames and their fans were almost in shock.

From that point on, the ice really seemed to open up and the pace of the game took off.

1306350614Following a Calgary icing with about 25 seconds left, Andrew Shaw won the offensive zone draw to Berra’s left. The puck found its way back to Niklas Hjalmarsson who fired a shot toward the net that got blocked. The puck then bounced right to Patrick Kane who spun to his left and fired home a nice backhander that beat Berra with 18 seconds left in the game. Once again, the Hawks had pulled off a semi-miracle on the Flames home ice. The final 18 seconds ran off the clock after the ensuing faceoff, and the Hawks won the game 3-2.

I guess there’s just something about Calgary that makes the Blackhawks do incredible things late in games.

So, here’s what I saw last night:

  • Antti Raanta made his first career start and earned his first career victory while making 20 saves. He played a solid game and came up with some big stops at key moments to keep the game close. This was a great sign for the Hawks that he played well. Hopefully that continues moving forward. 
  • Kris Versteeg was all over the ice last night. He had a number of quality scoring chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net. His versatility has really shown since coming back to the Hawks a couple weeks ago. Quenneville hasn’t hesitated to move Versteeg from the third line, to the second line, and vise versa. His goals will come with time.
  • Duncan Keith is playing out of his mind right now. He is definitely deserving of all the Norris Trophy talk he is receiving.
  • Patrick Kane now has a point in 12 straight games, making this the longest such streak of his career. He appears to have the “I’ll do whatever I want, when I want” attitude right now, which is a bad thing for the rest of the league.

The Hawks have now won 4 straight games on this road trip after losing the first game in Colorado. They also now lead the NHL in points with 40, although they’ve played a couple more games than teams like St. Louis who are right behind them in the standings. The Hawks will finish this 7-game trip with games in Dallas and Phoenix on Friday and Saturday night, respectively.

I really like how the Blackhawks are playing right now, even without Bryan Bickell in the mike-madduxlineup. When he comes back, I’d personally like to see him bump either Handzus or Bollig out of the lineup. Handzus will not play every game because of his health and age, but theoretically Bollig could. My problem with Bollig is that he doesn’t really do a whole lot that warrants him being in the lineup every game like he currently is. You can’t tell me that there are no better hockey players in Rockford than Bollig who could be playing on the Hawks’ fourth line. When Bickell comes back, I’d be fine if Bollig and Handzus platooned that last spot on the fourth line, but I don’t want to see Bollig continue to play every night. He’s just not that good.

That’s all for now.

Iginla to the Blackhawks?

jarome-iginla-featuredThis past weekend, Jarome Iginla made a list of 4 teams that he would accept a trade to if the Flames decide to part ways with their captain. The 4 teams on that list, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, are Boston, Chicago, L.A., and Pittsburgh. All 4 teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. With Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Brendan Morrow yesterday, one would have to assume that they are no longer going to be trying to trade for Iginla, shortening that list to just 3 teams now. So now the question becomes, what jersey will Iginla be wearing come 2 weeks from now?

The NHL trade deadline is April 3rd, and Jarome Iginla is probably the biggest name being mentioned in trade talks. Assuming that the Penguins are done trading after acquiring Morrow, that leaves us with either Boston, Chicago, or L.A. as possible destinations for Iginla. Being the Blackhawks fan that I am, let’s take a look at what it would take for the Hawks to get Iginla.

Calgary has made it clear that they want at least one first round pick, plus a couple prospects, and/or a current player off an NHL roster in return for Jarome Iginla. Not many teams would be willing to give up that much for a 35 year old player who is in the last year of his contract. However, Iginla is the type of player that could really help a team win the Stanley Cup. In the case of the Blackhawks, he is exactly what they need: a big, physical forward who can score goals.

Going based off what Calgary wants in return for Jarome, the Hawks would probably need to trade away a first round pick, two top prospects, and a player off their current roster. It is rumored that the Flames want Brandon Saad as part of a deal with the Hawks, but that simply won’t happen. My guess is that if the Hawks really do go hard after Iginla, they would be offering something like Brandon Pirri, Mark McNeil/Jimmy Hayes/Jeremy Morin, and a guy like Stalberg or Frolik off their current NHL roster, as well as a future first round draft pick. Odds are that Calgary would lobby hard for Stalberg over Frolik in this deal.

Keep in mind that Viktor Stalberg and Bryan Bickell are both unrestricted free agents after this season, and the Hawks may not be able to re-sign both of them. That makes trading Stalberg a little easier to get over. As much as I don’t want to see Stalberg get traded, I think it would be worth it for Iginla in return.

So what would Jarome Iginla do for the Hawks?

Right now, arguably the biggest weakness of the Blackhawks is their lack of size and physicality. This was made evident in last year’s playoffs and against some bigger teams jarome-iginla-jamie-benn-2010-12-23-21-40-23like the Ducks this year. Iginla is big guy (6’1″, 210 lbs.) and isn’t afraid to hit people. He has often been regarded as one of the tougher guys in the league over the past decade. The Blackhawks could really use a big, physical forward who can contribute on the offensive end. Right now they have some bigger guys like Bickell and Bollig, but neither one is really considered a dual threat. If you place Iginla on one of the top two lines of the Blackhawks, he is going to bring some much needed physical play to the top of that lineup.

Along with his physicality, Iginla is a great locker room presence. He has been the captain of the Flames since 2003 and knows how to be a leader. Not that the Hawks need another leader (they have plenty), but it couldn’t hurt.

Some people question whether or not Iginla could be effective in the Blackhawks lineup because of their team speed, and Iginla’s lack thereof. The Hawks style of play revolves around their team speed and getting out on fast breaks and odd-man rushes. Jarome Iginla is more of a net-front presence (which the Hawks lack) who is much more effective in a half ice style of game. What I mean by that is Iginla is not going to be beating opposing players up and down the ice. Instead, he is much more effective in offensive zone play. He parks himself in front of the net, screens the goalie, and cleans up the rebounds. In a way, he is pretty similar to what Dustin Byfuglien was with the Hawks during their Stanley Cup run.

If the Hawks were to get Iginla, here is what their lines might look like (minus Stalberg):

Saad-Toews-Hossa

Kane-Sharp-Iginla

Bickell-Bolland-Shaw

Frolik-Kruger-Carcillo/Bollig/Mayers

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Quenneville put Sharp back at the number 2 center position like he did when they won the Cup 3 years ago. Some say Kane might move to that spot, but I completely disagree with that. As you can see though, Iginla would instantly make the Hawks a better team and a much tougher team in terms of physicality (and offense for that matter).

This trade is a long ways off from happening, but it is not unrealistic. If I were Stan Bowman, I would do everything I could to complete this trade without hurting the Hawks’ future. For the time being, however, all we can do is hope and speculate.

The deadline is just over a week away, so stay tuned.