When the Minnesota Wild left their home ice for the final time in the 2010-11 season, their website carried a simple message: "You're welcome, Blackhawks."
Even Joel Quenneville noted that the Blackhawks have been afforded a second chance at making the 2010-11 season memorable for their fans, and now must take advantage.
But can the Hawks beat the President's Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks?
The regular season means nothing.
Daniel Sedin is a potential MVP and led the league in points this year, but he now has zero. Likewise, Corey Crawford deserves the league's top rookie honor, but his slate is wiped clean now as well. Any, indeed all, regular season success means nothing but one extra game in Vancouver now.
Indeed, Crawford played in only one of the four games against Vancouver this year, so it's impossible to use the regular season as any indicator of how he will/won't perform in his first postseason.
In the same school of thought, the regular season performances of the two teams really can't be considered as a foundation for this series because so many variables have changed.
Brian Campbell didn't play in the first meeting, a 2-1 Hawks victory on Oct. 20. You cannot compare a pair of Jassen Cullimore-Nick Boynton to Nick Leddy-Chris Campoli.
In the second game, a 7-1 Blackhawks win in Vancouver on Nov. 20, Fernando Pisani scored two goals. The odds of that happening again are almost as good as the Dallas Stars winning a playoff series this year.
The third game was a shutout favoring Vancouver. But in that game, on Dec. 3, Marian Hossa was scratched.
The final meeting of the season, all the way back on Feb. 4, was another Vancouver victory at the expense of a Blackhawks team that didn't dress Ryan Johnson.
Another factor that makes it impossible to use the regular season as a barometer for this series is the number of significant absenses. Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer each had one goal and one assists in the four games, but are now questionable with injuries. If either/both can return, that's a significant advantage for the Blackhawks.
For Vancouver, Dan Hamhuis was one of the Canucks' more effective defenseman in three of the four regular season games, but he's doubtdul. The biggest missing piece for either side, however, will be Manny Malhotra; he took more faceoffs (81) than any other Canucks player, and won almost 63 percent of his draws in the four games against the Blackhawks.
The past means nothing, either.
The easy argument from Vancouver's perspective (and from idiots like Sports Illustrated's Adrian Dater) is that the Blackhawks no longer have Dustin Byfuglien, so they can't beat the Canucks. But then how do you explain that Luongo was pulled from only two starts this year, and one was against Chicago?
The easy argument from Chicago's perspective is that the Hawks have knocked out the Canucks in two consecutive postseasons. But will Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Ben Eager or Adam Burish be dressing for Chicago this year?
There are two simple realities that will show up in this series, which leads to my prediction(s):
- IF the Blackhawks play like they did on Friday in Detroit, the can/should win the series in 6 or 7 games. If the series goes six, the odds of the Blackhawks winning increase dramatically.
- IF the Blackhawks play like they did on Sunday in Detroit, the series won't last longer than five games.