Entering the Playoffs without pressure. Blackhawks v Canucks preview.

Entering the Playoffs without pressure. Blackhawks v Canucks preview.

And now that the season is behind us, and the roller-coaster has stopped, giving us some time to get our heads back together, we can have a fresh outlook on the ride. I have to say that it is nice to see most of the pressure on another team for a chance. Even I feel the loss of weight that dropped sometime between the Dallas win and the talk about winning the President's Trophy being meaningless started. It was a rough year to end up "backing into the playoffs," and I have to ask, "is that what really happened?"

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The truth of the season is this: The Hawks lost a lot of players. Talented or not, it hurts, especially when they are so talented. I think we have gotten back some of that, but will leave that for later. Chemistry is hard to build, and that shit takes time.
2nd, the schedule was not at all helpful. Not an excuse, but probably robbed the Hawks of a few points here and there. And thats not the only thing that robbed the Hawks of points. I can recall more than a few games where a piece of crap call cost the Hawks a win. Every team has them, I understand, but points were lost to a few of them (A Vancouver game provides a great example).
3rd, or 4th if you count the last one as two, the Hawks gave games away late on so many occasions due to lack of determination. All those really close ones that bounced in the other team's favor hurt the Hawks in the standings big time.
I am not trying to make excuses, only pointing out that 4, maybe 6 points could easily have shifted in the Hawks favor, probably more, and 97 points is not usually a "backing into the playoffs" kind of situation.
Add in the constant shifting to find new chemistry, the practices thrown away to the wrong systems, or lack of system to play with, injuries, and a few rough years for some big names on the Hawks. The point is: most teams do not make it into the playoffs in a rebuilding year, let alone grab 97 points. So, I think it could be time to give this team more credit than they have right now. A win on Sunday would have put them in 5th place for Pete's sake.
My question is, do the Hawks appreciate this chance, and does it make them determined?
There are some things going in the Hawk's favor too, you know. One, we own Luongo, well Buf did anyway, but Bolland and Kane do too. Both Bolland and Brouwer are probably going to play in this series which is a big deal for Vancouver fans. The Hawks like to score goals against Vancouver, and their defense has had their hands full in the past.
The Hawk's had a rougher road to the first round, which might have made them stronger (yet to be seen). Their division was much tougher and they still own the 6th best goal differential (what should be the tie-breaker) even with that lack luster finish, and a damn good power-play to boot. With the target on their head all season and now off, I think that freedom will do wonders for the Hawks. Everyone brought their A game against them, especially early when they were hurting, and now they can just be the underdogs with nothing to lose. All we wanted was a playoff birth anyway. Mission accomplished. It is all gravy from here out.
History is favoring the Hawks in a big way. Many faces might have left, but many have stayed who have proven to be an issue for the Canucks on many occasions. Mind games seeming to have a part before, now the Canucks have added pressure to deal with, and the Hawks have confidence on their side. Underdogs with confidence, a killer combo.
A couple things that need to happen. Crawford needs to be his heroic self in 4 out of the 7 games. I think that ratio bodes well for the rookie goaltender given his year. Oh, and a rookie goaltender got the better of them last year too. The PP has to be at its best, and the PK needs to stay where it has been for the past weeks, aggressive. This could be the deciding factor.
Hossa. Not a huge factor before, but if he can finally produce in the playoffs, the difference it will be.
The lines will be something to watch. Starting without Bolland or Brouwer, the Hawks will be forced to switch things around during the series. What we see in the beginning might not be for the following game. The Hawks need to be focused on what their individual roles are. The match up of lines will not be what they have been in the past, but I think if they know who they are playing against on every shift, it will work out. Word is, expect to see what we saw in the past 2 games. Which was pretty strong in my opinion. I think the Stalberg, Johnson, Kopecky line will be a surprise to Vancouver, but still no Bolland, Brouwer, Ladd.
The D has to be the difference. We have seen a lot of ups and downs from this area, and hopefully their shit is together now. If Keith arrives ready and focused, Campbell can show some edge, and Seabrook continues what he has been doing lately, I like the Hawk's chances. Hell, if Kane keeps doing what he did in the last 2 games defensivley the D might get a break.
Lastly, the Hawks might have lost some talent in the summer, but they also gained during the season. Can Johnson replace what Madden brought to this team? Is Frolik the smart, defensive power that Ladd was, but with more scoring sense, Stalberg the crazy speed and edginess of Verstud, and is the newly experienced Bickell a factor? I can say that without a doubt, Campoli brings huge gains over last year's defense and Leddy helps that statement.
The point of this long-winded post is that you can not assume anything based off of this season when the Hawks are part of the conversation. They are a huge wild-card that happens to be the defending champs.
Are you ready?

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  • There's no shortage of playoff upsets in the past to remind us that anything can happen. The key against the Nucks in the past two years was to score first and do anything possible to get Vancouver off their game. If the Nucks gets on the board first and settle into a comfortable lead, it's usually a tough road for the rest of the night, especially if Lou is on his game.

    I still think the Hawks kinda stole the series in 2009 with a lot of help from the pressure the Canucks faced from their fans and Canadian press. You probably all remember Vancouver was up 2-1 in games and ahead 1-0 in game four with less than 3 minutes to play. It didn't look good. The Hawks were totally frustrated and couldn't get anything going against the clamp-down defensive strategy Vancouver was using. But then Havlat managed to sneak one by Luongo to tie, and then they won in OT on a Ladd tip-in. I remember the Nucks team / coaches immediately took a lot of heat for sitting on that 1-goal lead at the time, so they changed their game-plan around a bit for the next 2 games. They went with a slightly more attacking offense and less-choking defensive style, which we all know benefits the Hawks in the long run.

    Anyway, all this to say, if the Hawks can win one up in Vancouver, the whole scenario could change in a hurry. The mind-games will begin and the pressure on the Canucks goes through the roof as they come back to the UC.

  • Did you know: In the last ten years, only two of the Presidents Trophy winners have gone on to win the Cup. (both times it was Detroit- 2002 and 2008) But the more interesting fact is that the last two Presidents Trophy winners have both lost first round. (San Jose in 2009 and Washington last season.)

    Here's to keep the streak alive! I'm betting on the Hawks in 7!

    Good luck.

  • In reply to matto:

    Good point there OT...

    Colorado actually went all the way as well in '01, but apart from the Avs and the Wings, I don't think any other PT winner has made it past the 2nd round in the last decade. And '06 was a rough year for the Wings losing in the first round after absolutely owning the regular season with 124 points. 8th place Edmonton went on to reach game 7 of the Finals that year.

  • In reply to matto:

    Forgot about Colorado. They were a heated/hated rival at the time and I guess I must have just blocked that one out. 2006 is a painful memory. I remember hating that draw and I was right for feeling so. That was Steve Yzerman's last year and Babcocks first year with Detroit. 10 years later and Rollo is in net for Tampa Bay with Yzerman at the helm. Go figure.

    Sh*t happens like that all the time. Thats where I'm coming from with my Hawks pick. They are an 8 seed yes, but this years finish line for the last 4 spots tells me that the seeding is just a matter of who gets home ice advantage each round.

    This baby is up for grabs!

  • In reply to matto:

    Well, it's on. Nice run down HH. Now that they are here, I believe anything can happen and more so with this Hawks team then perhaps any other team in the league. They have survived a lot just to get here and though they sit in the last seed spot, there is a lot of Cup experience there. For me, I think they only way they can win is through team D. What Kane did the other day to set up that goal is what all forwards need to be doing. As for the D core, they need to be able to play with balanced ice time as Keith cannot go through an entire playoff run with 30 min a night. If Q tries to go with primarily three forward lines, that is going to be tough as well. Lets go Hawks!

  • In reply to matto:

    "I believe anything can happen and more so with this Hawks team then perhaps any other team in the league."

  • In reply to matto:

    Come on Hawks. We got this folks.

    I predict an undefeated streak from here until we hoist the Cup again.

    That's right.

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