Blackhawks Confidential

All signs point to Blackhawks beating Nashville in first round series

Since the Blackhawks have beaten the Nashville Predators four of six games this season, I see no reason why they shouldn't overcome the patient, plugging Preds in the first round of the NHL playoffs, beginning this week.

After all, let's be honest here, folks, if the Hawks can't eject Nashville, they don't deserve to go anywhere else anyway. If you can't do the expected, there will be no chance after years and years of rejection of doing the unexpected and winning a championship in this city the hockey gods forgot and banished to the eternal penalty box a long time ago.

Here is what should be the key difference for me. The Hawks penalty killing was one of the league's best at a 85.28 success ratio. Nashville was one of the worst, better only than the dreadful Islanders and Maple Leafs, at 77.13.

Right there, it's easy as ABC. You score on the power play enough, they don't, you win.

Of course, we all know the Hawks finished 2-for-27 on the power play in their closing nine games and were a spotty 3-for-19 against the Preds on the power play this season. So I'm just going out on a limb assuming the Hawks' power play rises to the occasion to get past their opening opponent.

I've been out on that limb before and have a few broken bones to show for it. But what the hell? No way the Hawks lose to the Preds in the first round. Ain't going to happen and you can post that on whatever bulletin board you like.

After all, Nashville was only 1-for-19 on the power play against Chicago, so we should have that small edge in the power play, as poorly as we have seen the Hawks play with the man advantage. And don't even bring up the two-man advantage.

Disappointed the Hawks lost 3-2 in overtime to Detroit Sunday at United Center on Brad Stuart's goal? Forget it. Just one final stinging detail, a reminder really to be better.

I know some Hawks fans are always ready to go for the razor blades when Detroit comes out on top, and I guess you could find plenty of people to argue which one of these clubs is on a better roll entering the postseason and hear a lot of critics contend it's the Red Wings.

But I'm inclined to go with Joel Quenneville's reaction to whether he expects to confront the Wings again in the postseason. Shut up and let's move on. It's moot if the Hawks fail to be focused on a dangerous Predators team that got very few shots all season against a tough Chicago defense and still managed to win a couple games.

How did that happen? Well, by just plugging along the way Nashville does. Let's listen to Preds coach Barry Trotz's comments after he beat St. Louis in a shootout Saturday.

"We didn't have a lot of detail, but we found a way to win--and that's been our mantra," he said.

Let's hope we aren't hearing Trotz say that after the first round series. If there's an upset, though, that's what he'll say again.

"We're 14-6-1 in the last stretch and our body of work is good," he said.

He's talking about team when he mentions "body of work." That's a threat. The Hawks can shut down individuals, but beating a "body of work" takes some heavy lifting. It's not as easy sometimes as shutting down one or two extraordinary talents.

"We need to sharpen everything: execution, details, line changes, our overall play, every zone, just details," Trotz added.

And as good as the Hawks played overall at times Sunday and in the six-game winning streak that preceded the biting regular-season finale, the same could be said for them. It's not enough to lament many close, aggressive moves going awry.

The Hawks need to finish, which they simply didn't do enough against Detroit.

Patrick Sharp could have scored once or twice. Jonathan Toews could have scored without a puck caroming off the left post and then the crossbar before saving Jimmy Howard, who was as good as advertised as he goes into his first big playoffs for the Wings.

We could go down a list of what-might-have-beens. Forget it.

Antti Niemi wasn't bad himself. He made some good saves and had some bad luck when the puck bounced off John Madden and fell perfect for Patrick Eaves to slam into an empty net for a 1-1 tie with 14:59 left in the second period. Dave Bolland scored the Hawks' first-period goal on the power-play rebound he got in the left crease from Toews crashing the net from the right side.

But as Trotz said, it came down to the details in the third. Colin Fraser tied the score at 2 to give him five goals in the last four games. And yet while that's a nice secondary story, if the Hawks need Fraser and the fourth line to be the key guns in the postseason, we have lost already.

Time for the big guns to fire. Time for the power play to flip a switch and suddenly be strong again, as it was last postseason after a spotty regular season. Time for this team to show how good it is, or else be judged failures forever in history.

From here, it's all about passion and details. In that regard, the Hawks could take a cue from Ed Olczyk Heritage Afternoon Sunday. Not often a player gets honored after he's traded back in 1987 for two fellas (Rick Vaive and Steve Thomas), who went on to 40-goal seasons for the Hawks. Vaive did it in '87-88 in a brief Chicago career and Thomas '89-90. I'm not even mentioning steady defenseman Bob McGill, also acquired in that deal with Toronto.

It was one hell of a good deal in the short run getting rid of Edzo, and we honor him for all he did for the Hawks. Funny old world, ain't it?

My point is, Olczyk was recognized more for his passion than anything else. As a top draft pick, he was a bust in Chicago as far as the powers-that-be determined--although he went on to good seasons elsewhere, and everything that goes around comes around.

As a guy who exuded a love for all things Chicago and who continues to be an alluring color analyst both for the Hawks and NHL, he's unbeatable. The passion of Edzo has to carry the Hawks from here to the Stanley Cup.

The talent and the emotion of this club has to come together. If it does, it should be a very enjoyable ride in the playoffs.

But as a veteran of that 1991 first-round loss in Minnesota with a very strong team, I know exactly how quickly your assumptions can be changed. The Preds are a team that will be stressing the small picture, the dirty details, and not the big picture.

The Hawks can't get caught looking at their press clippings over what should be. Knuckle down now and focus on the details. Such as scoring at least one power-play goal a game.

I can't imagine the music will stop for Chicago in Music City. But it stopped last playoffs in Motown in the third round, so no time like the present to sing a new song.

And sing it with passion and attention to all the small things that they did all season. The Hawks are better than Nashville. Now, they just have to prove it.

And they will. I haven't fallen off a limb in a few years now and my limp is barely noticeable. I feel strong predicting the Hawks survive and thrive to live another day in the second round.

But first...first things first.

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4 Comments

Jerry Kayne said:

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Good post Mike.

The overtime was lost when Kane, who seemed to be double-shifting, was gassed and Buff forgot it was 4 on 4. Oh well, we live to fight another day. Get hungry, hungrier, hungriest.

Line 3 needs to pull their weight and we'll have 4 potent lines. With that going the Hawks will eat any opponent alive.

The Hawks have had a million missed opportunities all year, time to cash in and make the bounces fall into their hands now. Come out flying and play that way until the final horn.

The Hawks need to do all the cliches from here on out; one game at a time, points on the board, play hard to the end, & Commit to the Native American crest on the front of the sweater.

This is the best time of the season coming up. Playoff hockey everyday. What a dream 2 weeks.

PS. good luck to nuk in Vegas. Keep your head up.

iplagitr said:

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Tough loss today, but as much as I would have loved to see the Hawks win the conference, I think I'd pick Nashville over LA or Colorado as an opponent for the first round. Not only for the reasons Mike gave, but also for the shorter distance they will have to travel in this series. That said, it would have been REALLY nice to see the Sharks and Wings wear each other out in the first round had the Hawks won in regulation today.

I totally agree with Jerry - this game was a microcosm of their whole season. They played well enough to win and had an edge in good scoring chances, but weren't able to cash in, as usual. The clincher was Toews hitting the post and crossbar at the end of the game. Unbelievable.

The team looks good heading in though. Time to get another win streak rolling!

Dave Morris said:

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Michael, right you are...the devil is in the details.

And there's something devilish about Barry Trotz N' His Nashville Puckboys, and their obsession with detail.

With a Finn at each end trying to keep the biscuit from twanging the twine, it's anybody's guess who's gonna be grinnin' when all the pickin' is done.

If The Hawkey Flock deliver a pair of command performances at Da You See, they might just rock n' roll their way through Round One.

But if those fellers from the Music City steal the show and get a split in CHI, waaal now that could be a mighty different tune.

Like Elvis Olczyk always reminds all you young hockey players out there, "Just get the puck to the net and make the simple play!"

VegasHawksFan said:

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Thanks for the good wishes guys, good to be back on line again. Oye, tough loss today. Ultimately, the Preds are the best draw. They will trap the shit out of the Hawks and in return, the Hawks will learn to deal with it and better prepare themselves for future rounds, or they will go home early and deservedly so like Mike said. Like the Wings, the Preds do what they do relentlessly and there isn't much room to operate. Unlike the Wings, however, the Preds do not have the same scoring power. No disrespect to what they have done this year, which is impressive, but they are not a top seed team.

On the plus side, I think the Hawks have finally gotten better with choking defense. On the negative side, they left just enough slop in their game today that their lengthy periods of puck control was not enough to keep it away from the wings. I really don't buy into the drama of the Hawks needing to beat the wings to prove they are worthy of winning the cup; last years wings beat last years Hawks, and they didn't win the cup either. What I will say for the wings though is that they and their coach seem to have the Hawks number like few teams in the NHL and the Hawks need to play them nearly flawless. The wings continue to expose their weaknesses, but aside from Niemi's fat rebounds, those weaknesses are getting smaller.

Enjoy your cross country series starting on someone else's home ice Detroit, you've earned it.

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