Post Trade Deadline Blackhawks Update

Yes, I’m still alive and well here. I know you’ve been worried. You know who else is alive and well? The Blackhawks. They are winners of seven straight games, and have won their last eight road games, which is a new franchise record. They also sit second in the Central Division while owning the league’s third highest point total (89). In a season that I and many others viewed as a stepping stone toward competing for the Cup again in the next two years, the Hawks have, to this point, shocked me.

Coming into this 2016-17 season, it was well known that the Blackhawks were going to have to play multiple rookies each and every night thanks in large part to the salary cap. As has been the case for the last 7-8 years, the Hawks are tight up against the league’s cap due to the fact that they have to pay high annual salaries to some of the NHL’s best players. The only difference this year, however, is that rather than being able to sign some veteran players to cheap one-year deals, the Hawks were forced to build their depth from within their own organization. Enter the likes of Ryan Hartman, Tanner Kero, Nick Schmaltz, Dennis Rasmussen, and Michal Kempny (signed as a free agent last summer).

You never want to have to place a lot of faith and confidence in a bunch of rookies to help guide your team to the postseason. There is simply too much of the “unknown factor” that comes into play in that scenario. There’s no telling how a rookie or other relatively inexperienced players will handle the pressure of being asked to produce right off the bat. That becomes even more true in the playoffs when the intensity on the ice and in the stands rises to levels that cannot be duplicated in the AHL or junior leagues.

However, the Blackhawks’ rookies have exceeded expectations thus far, and that’s an understatement. Ryan Hartman (15G, 11A) is making this city forget about Andrew Shaw. He’s producing offensively, he has been responsible defensively, and he brings some size and grit that can prove to be quite valuable in May and June.

Tanner Kero, while not a big generator of offense, is becoming Marcus Kruger 2.0. His value on the penalty kill has grown all season.

Nick Schmaltz got off to a slow start back in the fall and was sent down to Rockford to gain confidence and work on shooting more often, and ever since being brought back up to the NHL he has been an entirely different player and now sees time on the team’s first line alongside Jonathan Toews when everyone is healthy.

Heading into the trade deadline, it was clear that the Hawks could have used a top six winger, preferably LW, to play on Toews’ left, but again the salary cap (amongst other reasons) prevented that from happening. While Schmaltz has played well lately, I’m not sure he’s the permanent answer for that top line spot. In the playoffs, you want a guy with some experience to be playing in a role like that.

The Blackhawks did, however, reacquire Johnny Oduya prior to the trade deadline passing. This could potentially be a huge move. With Oduya now back in play for the Hawks, they can roll out the exact same top four defensemen that we saw during the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup runs. All of a sudden, the Hawks’ defensive corps is one of the strongest in the league heading into March and April.

So overall, here are some of my key observations as we near the end of the season and the beginning of the playoffs:

  • Depth. The Hawks seem to have it. As I stated, the rookies are all playing quite well and are either meeting or exceeding expectations. Depth, and goaltending, are the single biggest factors come playoff time.
  • Speaking of goaltending…Goaltending. Once again Crawford and Darling are both playing like No. 1 netminders. It’s Crawford’s job without question, but in case of an injury or a sudden drop in his performance, it’s good knowing Darling is there waiting in the wings.
  • Defense. This might be the strongest group of defensmen that the Blackhawks have had in quite some time. Not only do they have an elite top four with the addition of Oduya, but their fifth and sixth d-men (Campbell, TVR, Kempny, Rozsival) are strong and reliable as well, especially when playing bottom-pairing minutes.
  • Richard Panik. Here’s a guy who was hardly seeing ice time with the Maple Leafs before getting dealt to the Hawks last season, and now he’s playing right wing on the first line with Jonathan Toews. He sits seventh on the team in points (17G, 19A). If he can keep up this level of play in the playoffs, that will be huge.
  • Special Teams. It’s obvious, but the Hawks need to be better here. The penalty kill is substantially better than it was at the beginning of the year (especially with Oduya now in the mix), but it can still be better. As for the powerplay, it should be a top ten powerplay with the amount of talent on the Hawks’ roster. To win in the playoffs, you need a strong PK and a powerplay that will make the opponent pay for its mistake(s).
  • And lastly, Health. The Hawks cannot afford to keep getting bit by the injury bug come playoff time. A sidelined Toews, Kane, Panarin, Keith, Hjalmarsson, or Hossa could be detrimental to this team’s Stanley Cup hopes.

I’ll say it again. I’ve been extremely surprised by the Blackhawks this season. I honestly believe that what we’re seeing is a result, to some degree, of getting an entire summer of rest last year. Just look at Marian Hossa for proof. This team is skating with energy and seemingly a full tank of gas right now, which is something we did not see at this same time of year last season. Exiting after the first round last April could very well have been a massive blessing in disguise.

Moving forward, I think this team has the potential to win the Western Conference and play for their fourth Stanley Cup since 2010. I also believe that the Blackhawks could be knocked out as early as the second round of the playoffs. It will all come down to their depth, which right now seems to be good. But, anything can happen, and that is especially true when talking about a team with multiple rookies in its lineup on a nightly basis.

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White Sox near bottom in attendance

Let me make this clear… I am a die-hard Cubs fan and always will be. I have never liked the White Sox and never will. Having said that, it still bothers me that the Sox can’t seem to draw fans for the life of themselves.

The Cubs, one of the 3 worst teams in baseball this year, are TENTH in attendance in the MLB. Being in tenth place in attendance is really not that great of an accomplishment for most teams. But when you are as bad as the Cubs are this year, being tenth in attendance is something to be proud of. The White Sox on the other hand, who, oh by the way are battling for their division title right now, are TWENTY-FOURTH in attendance. There is no way to sugar-coat that statistic whatsoever. It is flat out pathetic.

Living in the Chicago suburbs as I do, I often hear some of the reasons as to why Sox fans don’t go to White Sox games. They don’t like battling the traffic to get down there, they don’t like the location of the park seeing as how it’s on the south side (the area around the park is actually very safe nowadays), etc. Actually, some people dislike the Sox’ owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, and the policies that he has put in place at U.S. Cellular Field, which has turned them away from attending games.

Whether it is the traffic that you don’t like, the ballpark’s surrounding area, or the team’s owner, White Sox fans should be putting all of that aside right now and selling out every single home game at this time of year. Your team had been in first place for over half the season, and you didn’t show up! Your attendance is good for twenty-fourth place out of 30 teams. And now, with the regular season coming to an end and the Sox one game out of first, there is not a more important time to sell out every home game. I bet if you ask the players on the White Sox, they would unanimously agree that having a sold-out home stadium really helps them on the field. By not showing up, as has been then case all year, Sox fans are sending the message to the players that they really aren’t interested in the team or what they are doing on the field.

The one thing that prompted me to write this blog today is something that I saw while briefly watching the Sox game last night on TV. Apparently, it was “bring your dog to the park” night at the Cell. Now to me, that is about as low as any team can get in trying to lure fans into the stadium. I mean seriously. You’re in the middle of a heated battle for the division lead, and you have to implement this kind of promotional night to try and get fans to show up? That’s a disgrace.

The Sox are playing their final home series of the regular season this weekend against the Rays. You can bet I’ll be checking the attendance for each game of that series. For the sake of the White Sox players, I hope that some fans do decided to show up this weekend.

Bulls Game 3 Preview

Tomorrow night, the Bulls and 76ers will face off against each other in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. The Bulls took Game 1 (while losing Derrick Rose), and the 76ers won game 2.

Game 1 for the Bulls went they way that they wanted it to go for the most part. They dominated the boards and built themselves a comfortable lead in the second half that they were able to ride all the way to the final buzzer. Obviously, the down side to Game 1 was the loss of Derrick Rose to a torn, left ACL.

Game 2 was the exact opposite of what us Bulls fans have gotten used to seeing the past 2 seasons. After playing a decent first half, the Bulls came out flat in the third quarter, especially on defense, and Philadelphia ran away with the lead to tie the series at 1 apiece. This was one of the worst defensive performances of the year for the Bulls, without a doubt.

Heading into Friday night’s Game 3, the Bulls need to get back to the style of play that got them to 50 wins this season, and a share of the best record in the NBA.

The Bulls have a reasonable size advantage down low on the 76ers, and they need to make use of it. Game 2 was a rare instance where the Bulls have been out-rebounded this season. Philadelphia totaled 38 rebounds, while the Bulls only had 32. Noah, Boozer, Gibson, and Asik need to step it up in Game 3 and use their size to their advantage and win the rebounding battle. The Bulls thrive on second chance points, so getting as many rebounds as possible, especially on offense, will give them an advantage in the game.

Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng HAVE to show up for Game 3. These two combined only managed to get 17 points in Game 2, which is not the recipe for a victory. With Derrick Rose now gone for the remainder of the playoffs, Boozer and Deng are the Bulls’ best 2 offensive options in their starting lineup, and they have to step up their game from here on out.

Jrue Holiday. Someone needs to contain him. He was the heartbeat of the 76ers offense for much of Game 2, and he single-handedly kept Philadelphia in the game during the first half. Whether it is permanently placing Deng on Holiday, or double teaming Holiday when he has the ball, the Bulls need to limit his effectiveness in this series and make someone else step up for the 76ers.

Fast break points for Philadelphia KILLED the Bulls in Game 2. It seemed like after each defensive rebound by the Sixers, they had at least two guys breaking up court creating 2 on 1/3 on 1 breaks that lead to a large portion of their overall point total. The Bulls are going to have to really make an effort to get back on defense and not allow the 76ers to get too many fast break points.

I know that I have just listed a number of things that the Bulls need to improve on heading into Game 3, but they are more than capable of doing so. It’s how they ended the last 2 regular seasons as the number 1 team in the NBA. Assuming that they can get back to playing the way that they did for each of the last 2 regular seasons (yes, even without Rose), they should win Game 3, and this series.

Thanks for reading.

Derrick Rose tears ACL

Today is a sad day for Chicago sports fans. Despite winning Game 1 of their series with the 76ers this afternoon, this may just be the most disappointing day that the Bulls franchise has gone through since the breakup of the 199o’s dynasty.

With a little over a minute left in regulation, and the Bulls up by 12 points, Derrick Rose drove to the basket, got himself high up into the air, and dropped a pass off for Carlos Boozer before landing on one foot in serious pain. Rose dropped to the floor holding his left knee and was visibly in severe discomfort. He would remain on the floor for a couple of minutes while the Bulls trainers took a look at his knee. Rose was unable to put any pressure on his left leg while being helped off the floor, which  made it clear to everyone watching that this may be a serious injury.

Well, we now know that Rose suffered a torn ACL on the play and will miss the rest of the season, as well as the Olympics. This is a HUGE loss for the Bulls. Even though this is about the worst possible news to a rabid Bulls fan, I am still trying to look at this situation with an optimistic point of view.

With Rose done for the year, there really aren’t any high expectations for this Bulls team. Yes, we all know that they are still a very good team without Derrick Rose (they proved that this year by going 18-9 without him in the lineup), but let’s be honest. Not many people will be expecting them to advance to the Conference Finals now, and if they do get there, no one will expect them to beat the Heat. Having said that, now is the time for the Rose-less Bulls to go out and prove their critics wrong.

The Bulls will approach the remainder of these playoffs with a chip on their shoulder. They are going to go out there and give everything they’ve got to try and win as many games as possible without Derrick Rose. We will now begin to see just how valuable their depth really is. In the regular season, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III stepped up and really played well in the absence of Derrick Rose. When Richard Hamilton got healthy at the the end of the year, he stepped up his game while Rose was still trying to find his own rhythm. The Rose-less Bulls won a number of big games this year, which will no doubt give them confidence moving forward.

Here’s my prediction. The Bulls will eliminate the 76ers in 6 games. In the second round, odds are that they will meet the Boston Celtics. Boston has come on really strong since the all-star break, but they are beatable. I say the Bulls take that series to 7 games with a decent chance of winning it because of the strength of their bench. If they do get by the Celtics, then that’s where I have to draw the line. I don’t see them being able to take out the Miami Heat in the Conference Finals.

This is going to be the toughest test of the year for the Bulls, but if there is one team who could overcome this adversity, it is this team.   They have as much, if not more heart than any other team in the league. If you look back at the blog I wrote about the Bulls earlier in the year when I talked about them being a “true team,” this is when being a true team really becomes important.

Take a “glass half full” approach on this situation, Bulls fans. It’s the best way to handle the adversity.

Thanks for reading.

NHL Eastern Conference Semifinals Predicitons

vs. 

These two teams met last year in the Quarterfinals, with the Capitals being the number 1 seed, and the Rangers number 8. The Capitals would win that series without much of a problem, 4-1. This year, it is not going to be quite so easy. The Rangers are the number 1 seed in the East, and they held the top spot in the conference for much of the season. The Capitals meanwhile, barely made it into the playoffs. Having said that, both of these teams played well enough in the first round to advance to the Conference Semifinals, with each team winning in a Game 7.

New York just made it through the first round against Ottawa. I don’t think anyone thought that series would end up going to a seventh game, but it did, and it has a lot of people questioning the Rangers ability to make it to the Cup, let alone win it. Marian Gaborik was nearly non-existent in the first round, which has many Rangers fans worried, and rightfully so. He is going to have to show up for the second round, because the Rangers need his scoring. With Gaborik only registering 1 goal in the first round against Ottawa, it became clear that the Rangers heavily rely on him to carry their offense. They outscored the Senators in that series by just one goal, 14-13. If it wasn’t for the incredible goaltending by Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers may not have survived that series. Against Washington, New York needs to generate more offense. Washington is not the greatest defensive team, but they have been rather decent in these playoffs. Braden Holtby will be heading into this series with a ton of confidence after the way he performed against Boston. Confident, rookie goalies are some of the toughest goalies to figure out and beat, which means that the Rangers need to score more goals per game in this series than they did against Ottawa. Defensively, the Rangers should stick to what they have done all year. They have been one of the strongest defensive teams in the league since day one of the season. Special teams will be a key to this series. Whichever team has a better and more consistent powerplay will have an offensive advantage over the other team. Neither Washington or New York have been that great on the powerplay this year, so if one of them can get it going in this series, it could be a difference maker.

The Capitals knocked off the defending champion Boston Bruins in 7 games in the first round. My prediction before that series started was that the Bruins would win in 7 games, and that the Capitals would not go down easily. Well, I partially got that right. The Bruins didn’t win, but the Capitals sure put up a fight, and a good enough one to advance. Braden Holtby was an absolute star in net during the first round for Washington. Who would have ever guessed that he would be the starting goalie for the Capitals come playoff time, and that he would play well enough to eliminate the Bruins? The play of Braden Holtby has been the most surprising story line thus far in these playoffs. After having such a disappointing season, the Capitals seemed to have found their stride in the first round against Boston. Ovechkin picked up his game, and so did Alexander Semin. Semin looked like a man possessed at times for the Capitals, which really made life difficult for the Bruins defense. If Washington wants to beat New York and advance to the Conference Finals, they need to keep on playing like they did in the first round. They will be going up against another great goalie, actually the best goalie, in Henrik Lundqvist, as well as another fantastic defensive team. In the regular season, the Rangers ranked third in goals against per game. So far in these playoffs, they rank fourth. Washington is going to HAVE to get another strong series from Ovechkin, Semin, and Holtby. Nicklas Backstrom is also going to need to play well. He had an OK first round with 1 goal (it came in the second overtime of Game 2) and 3 assists, but he is going to need to step it up even more against the Rangers. Also, physical play is going to be a big factor in this series. New York is arguably the most physical team in the league, so the Capitals are going to have to try and match the Rangers in the department.

-New York wins series, 4-2.

vs. 

The Devils will head into this series fresh off their Game 7 victory in Florida over the Panthers, while the Flyers will head into this one with plenty of rest. Offense was the name of the game for Philadelphia in the first round, but now they will be going up against one the best playoff goaltenders of all time in Martin Brodeur. Who will prevail?

The Flyers did what most people didn’t think would happen to the Penguins. They eliminated them from the playoffs, and they made it look somewhat easy. Their offense absolutely exploded in round one, netting 30 goals. A big part of their offensive explosion was the play of Claude Giroux. He recorded 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists) in the first round, which I believe set a Flyers playoff record for one round. Giroux was easily the most impressive forward in round one of any team in the playoffs, and it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play at that high level against the Devils. Danny Briere also came up big for Philadelphia in round one, netting 5 goals and 3 assists. Against the Devils, the Flyers need to get a lot of shots on goal. Martin Brodeur is not going to let in too many soft goals, so Philadelphia will need to get as many shots as possible and create a number of decent scoring chances in order to beat him. Also, there is some concern regarding the Flyers defense and goaltending. They looked OK in round one against the Flyers, but also looked pretty bad at other times. They are going to have to play quality minutes and clog the passing lanes against New Jersey’s top 2 lines. As for Ilya Bryzgalov, he will need to be better against the Devils than he was in round one. In the first round, his goals against average was a whopping 3.89, and his save percentage was just .871. Those are unacceptable numbers, especially in the playoffs. Even though Bryzgalov was able to win 4 games against Pittsburgh, neither he nor the Flyers can rely on those same numbers to get them through the second round.

The Devils have yet to convince me that they are a serious contender in the east. At times they have looked really good, but at other times they have looked very beatable. Their defense is their strength. They ranked ninth in the NHL in goals against per game this season, which is something that they will need to continue against the Flyers. As we all know, Philadelphia was about as potent of an offense as there was in the NHL this year, ranking second in the league in goals per game at 3.17. In the first round, they averaged 5 goals per game, which is nearly unheard of. The point I am making is that the Devils have to be on top of their game defensively every minute of every game in this series if they want to advance to the next round. They cannot afford any mishaps against the Flyers. Martin Brodeur, who didn’t have his best playoff series against the Panthers, will need to have one of his best against the Flyers. Odds are that his defense will need him to bail them out more than once in this series. He cannot allow any weak goals, because Philadelphia will without a doubt get a number of good goals as well. As for the New Jersey forwards, they played rather well against Florida in the first round, averaging 2.57 goals per game. There is one major concern, however. How healthy is Ilya Kovalchuk? In Game 7, he was noticeably laboring out on the ice and was not his normal self. He was unable and/or unwilling to make sharp cuts on defense, which led to a couple decent opportunities for the Panthers’ forwards. In order for the Devils to win this series, they will need Kovalchuk to be as healthy as can be. They cannot afford to have him play at less than 100%. Adam Henrique, who scored just 2 goals against Florida (both in Game 7), will need to have a better series. He was a huge part of the Devils offense this season, even as a rookie, and they will need him now more than ever. Lastly, Zach Parise needs to play like the Zach Parise we all know. It’s as simple as that with him. With that said…

-Philadelphia wins series, 4-1.

NHL Western Conference Semifinals Predictions

Well, I got 2 of my 4 predictions right coming out of the Western Conference after the first round of play. I had both St. Louis and Nashville advancing, and they did. I was pretty surprised that neither the Blackhawks, nor the Canucks advanced, especially the Canucks. But that just goes to show you how important goaltending is come playoff time. All 4 remaining Western Conference teams got through the first round thanks to their goalies. I can’t remember a time when all 4 remaining Western Conference teams were based on defense and goaltending, rather than offense, although one could argue that the Kings are an offensive team.

So having said that, lets take a look at who I think will be moving onto the Conference Finals.

 

vs. 

If you want a low scoring series, then this should be a good one for you to watch. The goalie matchup here is phenomenal, with Brian Elliott of the Blues going up against Jonathan Quick of the Kings (I believe Quick will be named as a Vezina Trophy finalist tomorrow, along with Henrik Lundqvist and Mike Smith). Let’s start with the Blues in this matchup.

St. Louis is coming off of a great first round victory over the San Jose Sharks that took just 5 games. In those 5 games, the Blues held the Sharks to just 8 goals. Defense was the name of the game for the Blues in that series, and it worked about as good as they could have asked. All year long, St. Louis has been a defense-first team. Some people wondered, myself included, if that style of play would be able to get the job done in the playoffs. I didn’t think it would. Much like they did all season, the Blues proved me wrong. Even though I had them advancing to the second round, I had them doing it in 7 games. I honestly believed that their style of play would come back to haunt them in a playoff series. It didn’t, however, and they rolled over the Sharks to advance to the second round for the first time in 10 years. If they are going to advance to the Western Conference Finals, they need to step it up offensively. Yes, they averaged just under 3 goals per game against the Sharks and have the second best powerplay in the playoffs so far, but Jonathan Quick is one of the toughest goalies to score on in all of hockey. The Blues are going to need their powerplay to continue producing goals. Also, they are going to need to score a handful of sloppy goals off of rebounds. Jonathan Quick stops just about every shot that he sees, which means that the Blues MUST put bodies in front of the net to screen Quick as much as possible. This will also help create rebound opportunities.

As for the Kings, they need Jonathan Quick to continue his incredible play. Not many people thought that L.A. would upset the Canucks in the first round, let alone in just 5 games. The biggest reason for that upset was the play of Jonathan Quick in net and their team defense. The Canucks were one of the best goal-scoring teams this year in the regular season, but were held to just 8 goals total in the first round. That’s really saying something about the Kings’ defense and goaltending. We’ve known all year long that the Kings have the potential to score a lot of goals with the offensive firepower that they possess. Their problem throughout most of the regular season, however, was their inability to produce goals, which didn’t seem to make sense. They ranked second to last in the NHL in goals per game this year, just ahead of the Minnesota Wild. If you look at some of the names on the Kings’ roster such as Kopitar, Richards, Brown, Stoll, Doughty, and Carter (who they acquired at the trade deadline), you would think that this team should have been one of the best at scoring goals. Well, they decided to pick up their game in the first round against Vancouver, and it paid off. If L.A. can get their top forwards to keep producing goals and points, and if their defense and goaltending plays the way it did against the Canucks, this is going to be a very tough team to knock out of the playoffs from here on out.

-Los Angeles wins series, 4-3.

 

vs. 

I was shocked that the Coyotes were able to knock out the Blackhawks in the first round. I really did not believe that their offense would be good enough to get the job done. I also underrated the skill of Mike Smith. He put on one of the best performances I have ever seen in Game 6 against the Hawks. Nashville, on the other hand, did not surprise me with the way they played against Detroit. Their defense was simply too much for Detroit’s offense to try and score on, not to mention the play of Pekka Rinne in net. That guy is a star.

So, what does Phoenix need to do to win this series? It’s actually a pretty simple concept, but not an easy one to complete against the Predators. They need to outscore Nashville. The two goalies in this series are two of the best in the game right now, and it is going to be an extremely low scoring series because of that. The Coyotes do not have a ton of offensive firepower, but they do have a group of guys who know how to score some ugly goals. In their series with Chicago, the majority of the Coyotes’ goals came on deflections, or plays that started from behind the net. They are a very good team at winning battles along the boards, especially in their offensive zone, which lead to a handful goals against the Hawks. In Game 6 specifically, they won a few board battles behind Corey Crawford, which lead to one-timer goals with the passes coming from behind the net. Another thing that Phoenix needs in this series is for Mike Smith to stay hot. He ended the first round with maybe his best performance of the season in Game 6. If he can carry that type of play over into the second round, and if the Coyotes can muster up some ugly goals, they will have a decent chance at advancing. Another thing that Phoenix has going for them is their ability to win on the road. They were 3-0 in Chicago during the first round, which is a HUGE factor in winning a playoff series.

For Nashville, they need to keep on playing the way they have played pretty much the entire season. Even though they don’t have the big scorers like Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Detroit, they still find ways to score. They ranked 8th in the NHL this season in goals per game, which surprised a lot of people. They also ranked 1st on the powerplay this year, which again had a lot of people caught off guard. Even with those impressive offensive numbers, this is still a defensive-minded team. They have the top d-pairing in the league, in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, and a top 5 or 6 goalie in Pekka Rinne. They shut down opposing offenses by clogging the neutral zone and shutting down the passing lanes. If their defense ever does get beat, then Pekka Rinne has been there to bail them out all year long. Simply put, this is NOT an easy team to score on. Against Phoenix, the Predators need to be good on their faceoffs. The Coyotes beat up the Hawks pretty good in the first round at the faceoff dot, which helped them especially on the penalty-kill. With Nashville entering the playoffs as the number one powerplay team in the league, they will need to win the key draws on the powerplay. If they can outscore the Coyotes on the powerplay in this series, they should definitely win. Phoenix’s powerplay is one of the worst in the league, so by scoring powerplay goals against them, Nashville would be giving themselves that much more of an offensive advantage in the special teams department. While we’re on the topic of special teams, let me say this: The team that wins the special teams play in this series will end up winning the series. 5 on 5 scoring is not going to be easy for either team, which means that powerplay goals are going to decide the outcome of most of these games. With that said, Nashville has a major advantage over Phoenix in terms of their powerplay’s effectiveness.

-Nashville wins series, 4-2.

 

 

Coyotes Eliminate Blackhawks in Game 6

Last night’s Game 6 between the Coyotes and Blackhawks marked the end of the season for the Hawks, while the Coyotes earned their first playoff series victory since moving to Phoenix. This was a tough series for each team that featured some heated moments and many overtimes, but only one side could advance.

The Blackhawks played probably the best first period they could have asked for. Right from the opening puck drop, all the way to the final whistle of the period, the Hawks absolutely dominated the play. It seemed as though the puck never even left Phoenix’s defensive zone. The Blackhawks were getting shots off left and right, peppering Mike Smith from every angle. In total, they out-shot the Coyotes 16-2 in the first period. Those are ridiculous numbers. Yet, even with all of the good chances that the Hawks had, Mike Smith wouldn’t budge. He played the best he had played the entire series. After the first period, the game remained scoreless.

The beginning of the second period started a little bit slower for the Blackhawks, but they ended up picking up right where they left off in the first period. For about the first 10-12 minutes of the second, they once again were bombarding Mike Smith with shots, and good ones too. Then, with just over 12 minutes gone in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for interference, leading to the Coyotes second powerplay of the game.

With a little over a minute remaining on the powerplay, Phoenix’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Corey Crawford with a slap shot from a few feet inside the blue line to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead.

The rest of the second period featured a few more scoring chances for the Hawks, but they still couldn’t score. The shot totals in the second period were 12-6 in favor of the Hawks.

In the third period, the Blackhawks came out giving everything that they had left in their tank, knowing that they needed to win the game to stay alive. Unfortunately for them, only 2:24 into the period, Gilbert Brule scored his second goal of the series to increase the Coyotes’ lead to 2.

With just under 9 minutes played in the period, Jimmy Hayes of the Blackhawks was given a 5 minute major, and game misconduct for boarding. This sent Phoenix to a 5 minute powerplay, where they would score with just over 7 minutes left in regulation to make it 3-0.

By this point, most, if not all hope was lost for the Blackhawks. To make matters worse, Kyly Chipchura added Phoenix’s 4th goal of the game with about 6 minutes left in regulation. The final score would be just that, 4-0.

Mike Smith was unbelievable in this game, stopping all 39 shots that he faced.

For the second consecutive year now, the Blackhawks have been eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. Last year, they had the excuse that they had to completely dismantle their Stanley Cup-winning team due to the salary cap. We all understood that and somewhat gave them a break for backing into the playoffs as the number 8 seed and losing in the first round. This year, however, is a bit of a different story.

Heading into this season, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said a number of times that he believed this team was capable of winning the Stanley Cup. To his credit, the Hawks did look like they were good enough to win it all for about the first 2-3 months of the season, but then the 9-game losing skid came up. After that streak ended, it was clear that this team had too many holes that it needed to fill if they wanted to win the Cup. Most people thought that they might try to fill those holes at the trade deadline, but we were wrong.

It was no secret whatsoever that the Blackhawks badly needed a second line center heading into the trade deadline. Paul Gaustad, Jeff Carter, and Antoine Vermette were all names that most hockey experts expected the Blackhawks to go after. Instead, they traded for defenseman, Johnny Oduya. Yes, this was a hole that they needed to fill, but acquiring a good, second line center would have had a bigger impact on this team than Johnny Oduya had. This was especially made evident in this series with the Coyotes, who dominated at the faceoff circle from the get-go. I’m not saying that Johnny Oduya was a bad acquisition (he did a lot of good things for the Hawks, although not so much in the playoffs), but the Blackhawks could have, and should have made a better trade than the one they made.

After the game ended last night, I was thinking to myself, “The Blackhawks really could have used Brian Campbell in this series.” Campbell was a key component to the Blackhawks powerplay while he was still on the team before getting traded to the Panthers. He was/is a great puck-moving defenseman, and he made entering the offensive zone much easier with his speed. If the Hawks had converted on their powerplay more frequently throughout the regular season, and especially this series with Phoenix, they would have been a much more successful team, and that’s a fact. If you really think about it, what did the Hawks really get by trading Brian Campbell? By getting rid of his salary, they were able to sign Steve Montador, Daniel Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Sean O’Donnell, and Sami Lepisto, as well as re-sign Corey Crawford and Patrick Sharp. Now, not all of those signing were due to getting rid of Campbell, because the Hawks did have some money before making that trade. But how much did Carcillo really help this team? He got hurt and didn’t even play half the season. Montador had some good stretches, but he was nothing to write home about before he also got hurt. Brunette was an underachiever this year, and O’Donnell and Lepisto were in and out of the lineup on a daily basis. Corey Crawford had a disappointing season this year, to say the least, and Patrick Sharp did what everyone expected him to do by scoring 33 goals. By not trading Campbell, they would have had 5 solid defenseman this year, and their powerplay most likely would have been a bit better.

Stan Bowman has A LOT of decisions to make this offseason. Should he look for a new goalie, such as Jonathan Bernier out in L.A.? Or should he trade for/sign a top 4 defenseman? Also, how is he going to address the issue of the nonexistent, number 2 center on this team? There are a lot of questions surrounding the Blackhawks heading into the summer months. I would expect some changes to be made.