Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes Playoff Preview.

Chicago Blackhawks, Phoenix Coyotes Playoff Preview.

Lets get right to the this, shall we?

You know the very first thing on everyone's mind, and pretty much the same noise heard throughout the NHL is goaltending when deciding on a victor in this matchup. Somehow, the Hawks managed to find a team even worse than them with the man-advantage, taking one very important factor out (a huge reason why I am largely favoring the Hawks in this series) of play, but that goalie thing is a pretty big one.

One might be able to fear the Yotes PK, but I think it starts and ends with the guy between the pipes. Sure, they are a defensive, team-game kind of a team, but Mike Smith is the main reason for their recent surge and the only reason they might have a chance at taking this series. His play, while impressive, is still better than facing Pecka Rinne, so again, I grin a bit here. The fact still remains that this guy is darn good, and really freaking hot right now. Some are giving this series to the Yotes because of it, but I have other thoughts.

I had to chuckle at a recent Hawks commercial that said Crawford's name about six times, and showed him making numerous saves as a build to marketing the playoffs. As I have recently said more than a few times, "I am unsure of how he got the starting gig, but there he is." The Hawks want us to believe, or maybe they are making themselves believe that Crow will be big for all of us, and while I have my doubts, I am also teetering towards agreeing with them. Crow had some pretty good games in his final weeks of the season. No shutouts, but he showed some of that poise and positioning in net that make him a solid goaltender. It is my opinion that the Hawks will only need solid goaltending to win in this series. How far they go after that might have to do with how well Crow does here.

When you look at the season series, you see a bunch of everything. Each team spanked the other once, there was a shootout, and yes the Yotes have the edge. But, it is in the inconsistency that I finally see hope. The Hawks were inconsistent, and that seems to have ended. Add in the hype that the playoffs bring, the experience the Hawks have here, and what I anticipate is a strong team effort from the Hawks, and I see little hope for the Yotes to take this. Man-to-man, play-to-play, the Hawks are stronger. If Smith does not outright steal 2-3 games, I see the Hawks as being victorious in 6, maybe even 5.

Word on the street is that Toews is ready to go, and has been for a little bit. Q recently said that he had long passed any of the hurtles that the administration has, and Toews himself says that symptoms are not really there, pointing to his being out of shape as his real focus. Toews skated in practice today, and he did it with Kane and Hossa on his wings. While I still think moving Hossa to the 3rd line would overwhelm most teams, I also like the idea of easing Toews back into this and playing next to Kane and Hossa will help that along.

Kane has been hot, Sharp is playing outstanding hockey, Stalberg has finally found his groove and is providing a huge boost, and Shaw is finding ways to put pucks in the net. Bolland will be playoff Bolland, Keith and Seabrook will be the pillars they should be and Oduya will continue to impress us and force the Yotes deeper into their end, giving the neutral zone to the Hawks. Keep in mind that Hjalmer is our #5 D-man, and he has been looking solid lately.

Basically, I am sticking to my reaction after Sunday's game, which is that everything worked out pretty nicely for the Hawks. They lost home ice, but does that even count with the Phoenix crowd not showing up that often? Here is the real kicker IMO: if the Hawks stay out of the box, which they have been doing a good job of lately, then they will win a few pretty convincing games here. At even strength, they are the far better team. This is the Hawks series to lose. If they play smart and hard, they win.

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  • Judging from what the crowd was like when I went to a game in Phoenix this year, I would expect an enormous amount of Hawks fans to be in attendance for the road games. Let's face it, Phoenix and Tucson are suburbs of Chicago.

    Oduya's effect on this team can be both oversold and undersold, but there is no denying he has helped stabilize a struggling defense. For matchup sake, I believe it is inevitable that we see both O'Donnell and Lepisto. To start in Phoenix though, I'm actually favor of seeing Lepisto. With the Defense once again mobile thanks to Oduya, I think Lepisto can contribute more.

    I want to see Toews back too, but I'm strangely not feeling that his return is going to dramatically improve this team. In his absence, several players have stepped up and I personally believe that a simplified game has allowed the team to get a better performance from all lines. Will the team get top heavy again and will our best talent be better isolated and easier for other teams to shut down? Not only that, but when the Hawks rolled through Phoenix, Toews was absolutely abused by the Yotes without a shred of pushback. What was up with that?

    Overall, I'm optimistic the Hawks can take this series. The Hawks team that got whipped all over the ice in Phoenix on Jeremy Roenick heritage night is not the same team that will be heading there this week. With or without Toews, I think the only strategy that will work will be to continue to try capitalize on Stalbergs speed outside and to keep getting guys like Shaw to make life difficult for the goalie. If the fancy shit returns, the Yotes will win.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Vegas, I thought Phoenix and Tuscon were suburbs of Canada. What are they teaching you guys down there?

    Nothing brilliant to add here. Expecting a solid gritty effort with an up-tempo pace. Don't let the Yotes dictate the pace. Neutralize Vrbata and Whitney and put everything at Smith. No dipsy-doodling, shoot the friggin' puck.

    That was a different team back in February, and Toews won't get that same treatment again. Smith likes to play the biscuit so the dump and chases will have to be perfect because he moves it quickly.

    Bottom line, this team is too good to lose this series. They are the superior squad in all areas but goal. If CC plays well this could be a shorter series than many think. If they lose heads should roll.

    (Well, the playoffs are here, and once again I'm reminded of how much I loathe the Canucks. Those silly car flags are popping up all over the place as the bandwagoners jump on board. I hope they're done soon so this visual noise will disappear.)

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    Actually you're both wrong. Phoenix is LA without the ocean.

    Hawks in six.

    Hasta,
    BW

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    I fear that the Hawks will give their goalie too much respect (especially if he makes a couple of unbelievable saves early) and try to make the perfect shot or extra pass every time. They must avoid falling into this mode. Keep it simple, get pucks to the net and bodies to make it uncomfortable for him. Getting Toews back should help the PP as he will win that initial draw in the zone which they have been failing to do, costing them 30 seconds right off the bat.

  • Be careful what you wish for! You have been so scared to play Nashville/Rinne that over the last several posts all you can say is how much better off you think the Hawks will be in the 6th spot. Well you got your wish! Now instead of playing that “monster” Rinne, you get to play a guy that actually has a better GAA and SV%. I’m not sure how that makes you better off but I guess that’s what you wanted. I think the Hawks are in for an eye opener in terms of the Yotes intensity in the playoffs. They have a decent attack (9 double digit goal scorers) and are tough to put down. I think the Yotes could take you in 7 because of home ice and due to the issues the Hawks have had all year....spotty defense and weak goaltending. Your starter isn’t even in the top 30 in GAA and is ranked 35th in SV%. And that’s a lot of slack to pick up. I’m not sure how your guys will make that work in the post season.

    HH- One thing is clear; you have an intense fear of playing the Preds! I don’t share your concerns in the least. What I see is the Wings getting to avoid their usual west/southwest travel schedule and getting to play a team with mere entry level playoff experience. The Preds are a solid team and w/o a doubt they will be a formidable opponent but the Wings have every advantage in this one with the exception of home ice. I think Howard is the better netminder between the two goalies. (More playoff experience, led league in wins until an injury in Feb, etc..) Nashville allowed the most SOG in the NHL and with Detroit’s balanced attack, they should be able to net enough goals to win four games. Also, Nashville has been riding their horse at full gallop all season and at 70+ games, I am interested to see what Rinne has left in the tank for the playoff grind. Nashville also has also had trouble finding their groove following the trade deadline acquisitions. Sure they picked up some excellent players but the chemistry has been off ever since and it shows in the fact that they only registered 10 wins in 18 games since making those moves. Therefore, I like the Wings in 6 (with a chance to close it out in 5)

    So there’s my unsolicited .02 boys! Good luck and I hope we meet in the WCF!

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    Wow. A Wings fan who fears no evil walking through the valley of the shadow of death because.......because they are fans of the RED WINGS WHO HAVE 11 CUPS! All in good fun One team, on some level the never ending belief your team is better then any team at any time in the league is at least entertaining.

    As a fan of the Hawks, I will readily admit one glaring difference between the Hawks and the Wings that the Preds constantly take advantage of, consistency. Your team is a lot better at that and is very good at making adjustments. Sooner or later, age negates even experience. The point about the Preds chemistry is a fair one. I'm sure I'll take in a few of those games. Good luck.

  • In reply to VegasHawksFan:

    Com'on maaaaan! Since when did Nashville become the valley of the shadow of death? Lol! You guys really do give them too much credit! You realize they finished 3rd (pts) in the West, right? The fact is, they arent even the best team in their own division and only edged our two teams out by 2 and 3pts total. It aint like its LA vs Vancouver! We split regular season series, have way more experience and an equally strong goaltender. Why shouldnt I be confident again??

    Im pretty sure Hawk Nation feels that their team could win against any team at any time too.....apparently just not when it comes to Nashville! lol

    The age factor has been mentioned every year for the past 10 years and it hasnt seemed to be too much of a negitive factor! haha! So if your gonna go that route, dont forget to also mention how soft they are while you're at it.

    Good luck Vegas! I think you are overestimating one opponent and underestimating your own. Yotes arent going to be easy!

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    One Team, thanks for taking the time to remind us about our goaltending woes. We're acutely aware of CCs not-so-lofty numbers and the 'hawks, like the wings, do have their achilles heel. Lets not forget that the 'yotes, too, are relative neophytes when it comes to playoff hockey.

    I'm not sure the Preds chemistry is off as you allude to. There's a certain complacency that came over all all of the 100 pt teams once the playoff spots were clinched. Your beloved wings weren't exactly tearing it up during the last two weeks either. Likewise the Blues, Preds, and Nuckleheads, exhibited indifferent play for spells during the last month of the season. If your wings are superior in every way to the Preds, then how superior must they be to the Yotes. But wait, didn't the 'hawks net points in all six games with the Wings?
    Whatever, this is the playoffs now, and indeed, a hot goalie can win a series. MIke Smith has been good but so have the 'hawks since they spiraled downward in February. We shall see.

    As for your Wings, Vegas is right, sooner or later, age negates experience. Preds in 5, six at most.

  • In reply to fourfeather:

    FF- I totally agree with your assessment of the Wings final weeks of the season. It was a low to say the least. The up shot is that we had key players returning from injury and I think got in enough games to be playoff ready. The Preds on the other hand added talent to their roster and floundered. Perhaps it is the indifference you suggest but I think it could be more than that.

    I know you guys put a lot of emphasis on regular season series records (which is why I just mentioned our split with Nash) I dont think it really means all that much come playoff time and if beating the Wings still feels like a feather in your cap, then enjoy it Yankee Doodle! Lol

    Mike Smith has been good is a bit of an understatement. He set the all-time record for most saves (54) in a shutout game this season. I dont know what that says for the Yotes in that game but it does suggest that Smith can carry this series singlehandly if need be.

    You seriously think Detroit wins only one game?

    I think Detroit wins game ONE!

    Good luck boys!

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    OT—54 saves against Columbus to boot!

    No, we don't put a lot of emphasis on regular season games. The 'hawks just don't match up well against the Preds because they know how to shut them down. The 'hawks had a good playoff lesson from them 2 years ago, which by overcoming the adversity—with some luck and a great no-look pass fro Erat—propelled them on to the cup. We're tired of the Preds, there's no passion in the games with them.

    Same applies here with the 'yotes. Tippet's plug 'n' play team plays without passion and gets the job done with great goaltending and by clogging up the neutral zone. Hawks are not a good match against them either. Primarily because they don't like the dump and chase game. With Smith you need good puck placement because he's learned from Turco in Dallas how to play the dump ins. In the end though, the 'hawks talent should prevail. At least that's what I'm hoping because I know the PP and goaltending aren't going to get the job done. Smith can fall off his game for spells as well and let's not foget that Phoenix has been in playoff mode for much longer than the 'hawks. Is that a good thing? We'll find out.

  • The Preds were the best team in Division play (the best division in hockey). That is a pretty good reason to want to avoid them. Smith is really hot right now, but he is not Rinne IMO. Rinne is simply the best goalie in the NHL, again, IMO. My fear was that those new faces Nashville found would really start clicking and in that equation, I see maybe the top contender of the West.

    The main difference in the Hawks post-February is that they figured out how to control the neutral zone, and they are freaking deadly when doing that. If things get heavy there, as FF mentioned, insert Stalberg and let him fly into the zone. Not a single team has an answer for his speed.

    Toews/Kane/Hossa through the neutral zone. Again, I see the Hawks taking this one. Crow will only have to be decent enough. Smith is going to face an ungodly amount of shots. Get bodies in front and it just, might be as simple as that.

  • In other news, the Oil have AGAIN snagged the top pick, which begs the question, how many number one picks does it take to make the playoffs? And we're bitching about our GM?

    Had I not been flipping through the guide, I would not have taped it, but the first five minutes were actually entertaining. While having the five GM's within earshot, Bob McKenzie went on a two minute rant about how shitty the scouts think this years draft will be and how many have already said winning this year's lottery is probably not that important. When they announced that Toronto would be number five, Burke had a look on his face like he didn't know whether to shit, scream, punch someone or do all three. I only wish I could have seen his face when Tambellini won again.

    Columbus comes in second and I can only imagine Howson thinking to himself, WTF do I have to do to get a number one pick? Meanwhile, Tambellini had a grin that unquestionably said, "Suck it bitches, I'm number one AGAIN" Sigh, the playoffs can't start soon enough. Maybe I'll take up Spanish this summer when it's over.

  • Can you believe it! Do you think they will keep it and just add another forward (which they dont need) or do you think they will finally address that defense?

    I agree with you about Burke- That guy is already pretty close to the edge following his teams late season collapse and I would not want to have been the guy that cut him off in traffic on the way home last night! Haha - Plus, he was already fuming during an earlier press conference when asked about if he was going to "rebuild" and what he thought of the "Pittsburg Model". Here is what he said (for those that missed it):

    "Pittsburg model? My ass! They got a lottery. They won a (expletive) lottery and they got the best player in the game. Is that available to me? Should we do that? Should we ask the League to have a lottery this year, and maybe we pick first?"

    LOL! Good stuff!

    Pretty geared up for tonight. All positive attitudes aside, I think the biggest key to my guys getting through Nashville is to win this first game tonight. Should be a battle!

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    Great game!
    Did not look good for the Wings after the 1st period, but your guys stormed back and then the excitement ensued. Holy penalties Batman, last night saw a lot of power-plays in the West games. But, in the end it was Pecka Rinne who stole a few from you guys.

    Nice to see LA take game 1. Saw the first period, and some of the second, but missed the rest. Again, penalties galore for the Nucks early on. The officials might be sending a message. Quick was awesome in net. Not encouraging to see 2 amazing goaltenders have that large of an influence on the outcome of the games, not when the Hawks have the same challenge starring down at them.

  • It was a pretty good game. I would have preferred a different outcome of course but overall, I liked how the Wings responded on the PK (lord knows there was plenty of it! ) I look forward to having a few bounces go our way on Friday night.

    Im not one to complain about officiating BUT.....11 penalties called in the first 40 minutes?? 17 overall, Really? The Preds and Wings are the two least penalized teams in the NHL for 82 games and then inexplicably draw 11 penalties in two periods between them? Per usual, Playoff officiating is completely different than it is in the regular season. Happens every year and thats why I dont even bother complaining about it anymore because that’s just the way it is. It didn’t just happen to the Wings, but to the Preds and to all teams playing last night. I fully expect that trend to continue this evening as well. I think we have one too many refs on the ice these days.

    Lastly- What’s up with Shea Weber? Dude lost his mind! I am hopeful for a suspension. Will Shanna-hammer do anything? I'm doubtful. All the other officiating is different in the post season, so why not Shanny too!

    Love seeing Pitt blow a 3-0 lead in their own barn. LA deserved to win their game and really impressed me defensively all night.

    Good luck tonight Hawks. You have a feisty opponent on your hands. Looks like Toews will be in the lineup!

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    Weber should be suspended, but I'm doubtful too. If Shanahan doesn't suspend then he's basically saying the playoffs are WWF. That it is ok to slam someone into the turnbuckle. That stuff should be dealt with immediately.

    Buttman was in the crowd last night and it appeared to me that the refs were definitely trying to be the "center of attention". They ruined what should have been a very good game.

    Nashville scored a couple of cheesy goals, IMO.

    Bitz should also get suspended for his hit in Vancouver's game. There were a lot of penalties there too, but many were deserved. Canucks up to their old antics, cheap shots, and dives and the Kings gave it right back. Canucks will unravel if the Kings keep it up.
    No greater pleasure for me than watching the nuckleheads lose.

  • In reply to OneTeam:

    Oneteam, I absolutely agree with you that Weber lost his mind. Further, I think Shanaban is a completly idiot for not giving him at least a game. If Weber did that in a bar, it would be a criminal assault.

    As for the game, when I saw that first goal go in for the Preds, I had a bad feeling it was going to go their way. They LIVE on shit like that. Of the three games I watched last night, that was by far the most boring and painful to watch and I'm not dumping on your team in saying that. That Pitt/Philly game was awesome and I thoroughly enjoyed watching that fail myself.

    You are right in the Hawks having the feisty team tonight, it will probably look a lot like your game did last night.

  • Nice to see you again ladies and gentlemen. Since I've been called out by H.H. I'll throw in my 3¢. And I'll play a little catch-up here before action starts later tonight in Phoenix.

    1. If Toews isn't 100% for certain, shut him down. We need him next year and beyond. I got the news he's lacing up, but as a father I wish he'd sit at least tonight's game for health an safety reasons.
    2. Kane has matured nicely but I hope the mullet stays. But if not, that would show one more inkling of maturity needed.
    3. A playoff win will be determined by concientious play in all 3 zones.
    4. Andrew Shaw looks like Pal from "Uncle Buck"

    Here's my hockey primer for the rest of the 2nd and 3rd season.

    Defensive zone:
    1. stack the blue line so opposition entry is difficult
    2. protect the house. after whistle action will be required (strike fear unto all who skate close to the blue paint. Make sure the opponent knows they're unwelcome but stay within the rules.
    3. make easy outlet passes for break-outs or simply clear the zone when the easy outlet pass can't happen. Minimize the stretch pass but wisely utilize it to keep the opposition honest.
    4. forecheck and back-check like your life depends on it.

    Neutral zone:
    1. (with the puck) pick up tons of speed through the neutral zone or chip-and-chase with speed
    2. (without the puck) lots of hitting here (that's what you're paid for Mr. Bickel)
    3. (without the puck) close space on opponents so they cannot move the puck
    4. lots of stop-and-start skating

    Offensive zone:
    1. Every puck gets to the net. So do the grinders (Shaw, Bickel, Frolik, Bollig, Brunette, Hayes, Kruger)
    2. Lots of cycling, Sharp, Stalberg, Kane, Hossa,
    3. activate the D-men. When appropriate, Leddy, Seabrook, Oduya, carry the puck low to create added pressure and an open man on each side of the net for the tap-in.
    4. Jamal Mayers needs to break out tonight and show the kids how to do it and Stalberg should show us all how he can eat up ice so fast the Coyotes will feel like orang pylons.
    5. shoot and crash, shoot and crash, shoot and crash

    This will be a series of who wants it more, and I want it more! You can find me standing (pacing) in front of my Sharp Aquous 60"-er giving the 'Hawks all the body english I can muster.

    I'm very happy the way the seeding ended up. Although Phoenix is a foe to respect, I feel the 'Hawks have the best chance to move to the 2nd round with them. I love the Wings/Preds matchup. Glad one of them will be eliminated early. I worry the Preds go deep. And I love rooting for LA to knock out the Canucks. No predictions though.

    By the way, I've been reading this blog all season. I've held back my comments only because of time restraints and the other commentors are very complete with their observations. I'll try to comment more as the playoffs unfold. However, I will not debate other's opinions.

    PS. Briere was offside on the momentum changer last night. I never blame the refs for a loss or a win. There's too many other opportunities to win than 1 or 2 calls. I hate the Flyers and am rooting for them to lose.

    PSS. H.H., I hope to see you on the ice again soon. I need someone to pass to!

  • In reply to Jerry Kayne:

    And with a loud roar, Jerry Kane is back just in time for the playoffs.

    The LA-Nucks game was a treat to watch. Quick established himself as the top goalie of the series and Lou will be lost throughout now.

    Agreed, The Preds and Wings battling it out is fine by me. What a game.

    I particularly like the comment about Mayers and Stalberg. yes, the Yotes like to plug up the neutral zone, but good luck doing it with Stalberg's new found confidence on the ice.

    I will add one last thing:
    Protect your captain! Bollig will destroy anyone who gets near him, but he won't be out there when it happens.

    Are you ready for this!

  • In reply to Jerry Kayne:

    P.S-
    I am playing some roller-puck these days, which is about all the time I can spare, but summer is approaching quickly.

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