Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks-L. A. Kings playoff matchup seems best and shortest way to go

The best scenario of all in the final week of the Blackhawks regular season would be for the Calgary Flames to overtake the Colorado Avalanche for the last playoff spot in the West, while the Blackhawks pass San Jose, win the conference and open the postseason against a Flames' team they have dominated for two straight years.

But since the Avalanche own the tie-breakers against the Flames, having won their season series, it seems more probable from this distance that the Hawks will face either the seventh-place Los Angeles Kings or the eighth-place Avalanche to begin the postseason, depending on whether Chicago finishes first or second in the West next Sunday.

And based on how their games have gone so far this season with L. A. and Colorado, the Kings would seem the easier matchup and the Avalanche more challenging.

The Kings are just one point behind Detroit, but I have to figure that the experienced Red Wings won't let up during the closing week as they make a run at fifth-place Nashville (two points ahead of Detroit).

The Hawks play in Colorado Friday night and a definite trend developed from their three previous games this season--all decided by shootout, two historically long and stressful. Do we want long, long, long overtime games for the first playoff round?

And I'm not just worrying about the team being taxed and physically strained so soon and worn out long before the Stanley Cup championship round. Me first, as always.

You worry about five-overtime playoff nights as an old man. You've seen all those TV commercials with seniors running to the bathroom at the damndest times.

And who wants to miss the Hawks scoring in the fourth or fifth overtime to seal the deal against Colorado just because of an inopportune plumbing problem?

The geezers club says make it L. A., not Colorado, even with the late starting times.

Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson won the shootout Nov. 6 in Colorado, beating Antti Niemi. Some guy I sorta remember named Cristobal Huet won the Nov. 11 shootout at United Center, just as Huet also won the shootout with Colorado in Chicago Oct. 10.

If there is a shootout Friday night in Colorado, will Huet be in net again?

Coach Joel Quenneville has already said Niemi starts Tuesday night in Dallas. So figuring there's no way Niemi doesn't start the season finale Sunday against the Red Wings, that leaves Q with the options of starting Huet Wednesday in Chicago and keeping Niemi from back-to-back games or Friday in Colorado.

But does Q dare risk trotting Huet back out there in front of the home folks in Chicago against St. Louis, where any goal allowed might bring out a flock of boo birds? It surely makes for some added drama to finish the regular season.

And while we are at it, exactly how bad would it have to get in the postseason before Q pulled Niemi and went to Huet? I hate to think about it, but somebody probably should.

The Hawks needed their longest shootout ever to beat Colorado in October. Andrew Ladd's ninth-round score did the trick. Huet needed just 16 saves in regulation.

On Nov. 6, the shootout went eight rounds before Chris Stewart beat Niemi for the decisive score. On Nov. 11, they polished off the shootout in three rounds. Sharp hadn't had much shootout success in his career, but got the decider here.

So if the Hawks and Colorado meet in the postseason, you can probably count on an overtime game or three.

The Hawks also had one losing shootout against the Kings this year. Their first two shooters scored on Huet Nov. 28, while goalie Jonathan Quick handled Chicago. But the key to the game was the Hawks failing to score on the power play over the last 1:02 of overtime when defenseman Drew Doughty was called for hooking.

Since this letdown still finished their annual circus trip 4-1-1, no one was very upset by it. Again, the matchup gods favor L. A. over the Avalanche because there has been some Chicago power-play success against the Kings.

The Hawks beat them 4-1 Nov. 9 in Chicago with even a pair of power-play goals by Troy Brouwer and Jonathan Toews. Toews also had a score on the power play against L. A. Nov. 28.

The only Chicago power-play goals against Colorado this year came from Cam Barker and Dustin Byfuglien, one gone and one undependable to do so again.

So considering all the problems the Hawks power play has had, maybe Los Angeles would be the perfect antidote to get it off the sick list in the playoffs.

Come March 18, the Kings looked totally lost on their home ice. Niemi gained his fifth shutout in the 3-0 decision. Tomas Kopecky scored a pair of goals. So from what we have seen this season, drawing the Kings would be better than going five or six overtimes with Colorado two or three times in the first round.

The spotlight would fall on Kings young defenseman Drew Doughty and Hawks savvy defenseman Duncan Keith in such a series. Keith is second in the NHL in scoring among defensemen with 66 points and Doughty fourth with 56. Keith is a plus-17, Doughty a plus-18.

It should be noted, as well, that before the Kings selected American goalie Quick with that 11th pick in the third round of the 2005 draft, the Hawks had picked Jack Skille, Mike Blunden, Dan Bertram and Evan Brophey.

Quick is now tied for fourth in the NHL with 39 wins with Buffalo's Ryan Miller, the star of this year's U. S. Olympic team. Kane vs. Quick would also be a quite interesting storyline if it's Hawks-Kings in the first round.

Before he beat Anaheim 2-1 Saturday, Quick was 0-3 with a 3.99 GAA in a four-game slump and had been held out two straight games to work on his form. That sounds to me like the perfect goalie to face in the first round.

The Kings are going with a Back In Black marketing campaign after a long-awaited return to the playoffs for the franchise. But it's the Blackhawks who are really Back In Black (and red).

At this point, the Hawks will take whatever they get and Colorado had been on a four-game losing streak until beating San Jose Sunday. So they look vulnerable as well.

Bring on anybody. The Hawks should be ready for anybody.

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9 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mike, if the Hawks do meet the Kings, one also has to wonder if El Lay faithful will congregate in their vintage 'Burger King' jerseys (1995-96 to be exact).

There is apparently a West Coast cult that worships this livery, and they are, it is said, a force to be reckoned with.

A Hawks-Kings series would give us lots of Jim Fox, whose sounds sometimes as if he inhales helium before the broadcast.

The NHL Network would also treat us to a Best of Slapchop and ShamWow commercials.

Can't wait.

Rich said:

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If the Kings win out (four games left would bring them to 103 points) they will be in fourth or fifth place no matter what Detroit and Nashville do, as each can only reach 102 points now. Mike, maybe you want to write a column about facing Detroit or Nashville in the first round if the Hawks finish second in the conference. It still could very easily be one of them.

Mike Kiley said:

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I guess that's why God invented the 7-day week, so I could stretch out my silly suppositions into a series. Don't want to use up all my material in 1 day.

LordStanleyOfPreston said:

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With all due sympathies to your bladder Mike, I say bring on the 'Lanche vis a vis the Kings in Round 1. Colorado's winning percentage before the Olympic break was a very stout .608 - since then they are a puny .412. I'd say the biggest factor in this decline is Joe Sacco's over-use of Park Ridge's finest son, Craig Anderson - he's played 69 of their 78 games and 32 of the last 33! Hot goalies win playoff games. Tired goalies facilitate rapid exits.

Plus, Peter "Savior" Mueller - his 'Lanche teammates gave him that nickname, not me - and his 20 points in 15 games since the Wolski trade was today put onto indefinite IR with a concussion, courtesy of a very cheap Rob Blake hit from the blind side into the boards in last night's 'Lanche OT victory over the Sharks.

I've watched every Kings game this season, and can say for sure that when they are "on," they are scary dangerous, as evidenced by their 5-0-0 road trip at the end of January. Plus I'll give the nod to Terry Murray over Sacco in terms of post-season experience, which can actually mean something in the playoff pressure cooker. And now that I think about it, the Kings have way more playoff-experienced players (Smyth, Williams, Scuderi, Modin, O'Donnell, Stoll, Greene) than the 'Lanche (Foote, Hejduk).

So give me the 'Lanche; and maybe all us loyal readers can pitch in for the purchase of enough Depend™ Adult Undergarments to facilitate your comfortable and uninterrupted viewing throughout the Blackhawks playoff run.

VegasHawksFan said:

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Bottom line is that the Hawks should be able to beat either the Avs or the Kings. I won't bet that, (and I will be in Vegas) but I have only the regular season games to look at for some kind of indicator and I wil continue to believe for now that the Hawks have the ability to raise their entire game higher then either team.

You lucky bastards will be spared the rantings of the nklhd for the rest of this week as I will be loading my stuff up tomorrow to move cross country. I am so committed to the Indian that I am moving to take with as much bad karma as possible. I've always joked that someday I would move and miss seeing a cup parade here, I hope that wisecrack was prescient!

Dean Youngblood said:

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I think Niemi has an advantage right now, in that other teams have not had much experience shooting at him. They would benefit from watching video of his recent games to figure him out.

Jerry Kayne said:

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I don't get all those stats, Lord. Chicago Public School has me dumbfuddled. But anything can happen in a series of games. None will be easy.

I'm confident the Hawks can beat anyone, any day. But, when they play dumb, they really can suck. It will be gut-check time every shift. If each player takes care of their position there will be no overtimes. I will be as nervous as I am confident while watching. In the meantime, I'll relax until the playoffs begin. Then let the chips fall where they may.

End with a flourish and beat up those Red Wings. I'll say no more so I don't jinx anything.

Godspeed Nuck. I hope you have all you want in your new digs. There's no reason to not stay in touch daily as you do now. You know the saying, "I may live in Vegas now, but with Center Ice ..."

iplagitr said:

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Isn't it great when the Hawks play so well that we really have to dig deep to figure out what to discuss (and complain about)?! Keep it rolling, boys!

Morris, thanks for the laugh bringing back to memory the infamous BK jerseys. What were they thinking?! Nuk, you should fire up that smart phone and rant from the road... Amazing how many contributors to the blog don't actually live in Chicago anymore. It's been my saving grace to communicate with great Hawks fans on this page when I'm surrounded by those faithful to the Bruins (and more realistically, the Red Sox) in New England.

TOM COTNER said:

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AS FAR AS A 1ST ROUND MATCH UP GOES FOR THE HAWKS, forget about the games that have been played thus far between us and the AVALANCHE. COLOROADO IS ONE AND DONE !!! No matter who they play, they are GONZO after the 1st round due to management stupidity and playing ANDERSSON like a plow horse; AKA, another CALGARY GOALIE. When will coaches get it ??? that you cannot play your #1 guy for 60+ regular season games and expect him to have the stamina it takes to play in the playoffs ??? The way that ANDERSSON has played for the last little while is a clear indicater that he is ready for a RIP VAN WINKLE type nap.
And you keep thinking that a HAWKS-KINGS series would be easier..........right up and until they bounce us from the post season show !!! THE HAWKS have never played well consistently on the west coast, especially in L.A.
What we should be hoping for is for DTW to possibly upset SJ, and for either L.A. or NASH to upset those dudes from VANCOUVER, who would like nothing else than to gain revenge on the HAWKS for last seasons thunping.
A HAWKS / WINGS showdown in either the 2nd round, assuming we get that far, or for the conference title would be perfect for us. AND YES, I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT WE CAN BEAT THESE GUYS. I have tons of respect for DTW, but IT'S OUR TIME !!!
More importantly, why hasn't Q and youngster BOWMAN dropped that goofball of a goalie to ROCKFORD, in exchange for a real back up guy in COREY CRAWFORD, yet ??? HUET on the bench spells all sorts of trouble, as far as I'm concerned !!!

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