The Chicago Blackhawks find themselves in unfamiliar territory this Spring. For the first time since May of 2009, they are heavy underdogs in a playoff series. It's the 1 vs. 8 matchup after all, and while nobody would consider our Hawks an unworthy playoff team, they fall behind their opponent in nearly every measurable category.
The Vancouver Canucks' stats this year are video-game like. Not only are the ever-annoying Sedin twins making life miserable for opposing bluelines, but they're getting additional contributions as well. The culmination of these contributions have led to Vancouver being among the league's best in several key categories: 1st in Goals, 1st in Goals Against, 2nd in 5-on-5 Efficiency, 1st in Power Play, 3rd in Penalty Kill, and 1st in Faceoffs by more than a full percentage point.
What I'm here to tell you is that these numbers, while impressive, may be deceiving. Let me rephrase that: They ARE deceiving.
The truth is, if the NHL were the BCS, the Vancouver Canucks wouldn't even be sniffing 1st place, let alone the President's Trophy. The NHL isn't the BCS (thank God), but the point is, something can always be said for strength of schedule.
The Canucks are the lone team from the Northwest Division to qualify for the playoffs; the second best in the division is a pretty average Calgary team. The division also includes perennial NHL doormat Edmonton, as well as the Colorado Avalanche, who may have just demonstrated the biggest midseason collapse in NHL history. You play each team in your division six times, which means Vancouver played nearly 30% of its games against some bottom-of-the-barrel competition.
"But you can only play who's on your schedule!!!!!"
I get that, but there's more.
There's that other 70% where the Canucks played clubs outside of their division, and the news doesn't get any more flattering.
Among their 82 regular season games, 37 of them were against playoff teams. Their record in such games? 17-13-7. Yes, for those "a loss is a loss" people, the 1st-seeded powerhouse unstoppable Vancouver Canucks went BELOW .500 against playoff competition during the regular season. So how'd they get that ungodly record? By beating bums. Often.
In their 45 games against non-playoff teams (including 12 against Colorado/Edmonton alone), Vancouver notched a 37-6-2 record. Congratulations.
Here's where the fun starts. The underachieving, Stanley Cup hangover-induced Blackhawks played 42 games against playoff competition, winning 21 of them. Seven of those losses were in overtime. If a loss is a loss, the Hawks went 21-21 against playoff teams.
Not bad. In fact.... *double checks notes* That's better than Vancouver!
Add the fact that the teams split the season series (with the Canucks getting help from the officials) and you've got a matchup a hell of a lot closer than your average 1 vs. 8.
I've heard folks say "My heart tells me to pick Chicago, but my brain says Vancouver."
Well, both my heart and my brain say Chicago, damnit. And it starts tonight.
Let's go Hawks.
Follow me on Twitter