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?"
Entering the Playoffs without pressure. Blackhawks v Canucks preview.
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?