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.