Ask and you shall receive here at the Feather.
As we’re just hours from the first puck drop between the Blackhawks and the Canucks in round two of the NHL playoffs, it’s about damn time we actually say something about it.
First, it seems all sides of the late-season playoff opponent argument – Flames or Canucks – will get their fill during this season’s playoffs. After the Hawks dispatched the Flames in six, on come the Canucks, the other late-season first round playoff possibility for the Hawks. Though most folks fell on the Flames side of the ledger – me included – we’ll all get a chance to see the Hawks against the ‘Nucks.
So, why were most Hawk fans pulling for the Canucks to win the Northwest Division late in the year, leaving the Hawks to play the Flames?
Well, first and foremost, playoff hockey – as all us Chicago playoff newbies have recently learned – is about goaltending, and it’s possible Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo is as good as it gets in the NHL. Aside from playing very well down the stretch, Luongo’s save percentage and goals against average during round one of the playoffs were .962 and 1.15. If Luongo saves over 96% of the shots he sees this series – fat chance, I’m sure – the Hawks will lose.
Another reason was the Sedin gentlemen. Not only are the two very talented hockey players, if one has an erection, the other feels it. The two apparently share a brain, and one always seemingly knows where the other is. Aside from killing the Hawks during the regular season, the two combined for nine points in the first round win, and each led the team with +4 ratings in the first round. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and the checking line du jour will have their hands absolutely full with the twins. If the Hawks can keep each Sedin to Jarome Iginla-like stats in this second round, the Hawks will win.
The other reason many Hawk fans pushed for the Canucks down the stretch was secondary scoring. Though the team entered the year with a big, bold question mark in the “Secondary Scoring” column, it’s become a relative strength since the signing of Mats Sundin. Sundin, Ryan Kesler, Burrows, Demitra and Wellwood have all taken turns producing as secondary scorers.
Sundin, the most seasoned of the group, missed games three and four in round one, but managed to score a goal during his play. He’s also 12 months removed from a 78 point season in Toronto; he can hurt you. Defensemen not named Keith and Seabrook will have to work to keep Sundin and the other scorers off the board, though the Hawks would rather see scorers not named Sedin beat them.
So, at this point, I guess we can say the “Flames” folks won the Hawk fan playoff argument. After all, the Hawks were able to take the first round series, while the Canucks steamrolled the Blues. The ‘Nucks are certainly a lot like the Flames, though, in that they’re more size than speed. At the same time, they have no shortage of skill. The Sedins are downright scary, and each scoring line can hurt the Hawks.
So, what do the Hawks have to do?
Same as the first round: stop the team’s best scorers. It’s been the Hawks’ hallmark all season, and they can’t stop now. From there, the Toews/Kane/Sharp line must produce at the level the Sedins will. Finally, Khabibulin has to come close to matching Luongo.
To do so, the Hawks will have to do all the things good teams do to good goalies: crash the net, get traffic in front, and move the puck side-to-side. If one of these three things fails, I don’t like our Hawks’ chances.
And, for God’s sakes, go find a television with Versus! Go!