It easy to be influenced by regular season outcomes. The Blackhawks went 1-2-1 this season against their first round playoff opponent, the Phoenix Coyotes.
Don't be fooled...the Hawks are a far superior team.
Sure, Phoenix has some nice pieces.
Captain Shane Doan has played exclusively for the Jets/Coyotes organization since he entered the league in 1995. An all around player, Doan can score with the best of them, and can play a physical game as well. I fully expect Hawk fans to hate him after the series.
Former Hawk Radim Vrbata is Phoenix's leading goal scorer, with 35 goals...including 9 on the power play. While his numbers look scary, Vrbata is a bit of a candy ass. When the game gets physical, Vrbata disappears. In his 20 career playoff games, he's scored 4 goals. To be fair, this has been Vrbata's best season, and he's a better player than he was in Chicago, but his 35 goals don't scare me as much as Doan's 22.
Hawks fans will also be familiar with former Canuck forward Raffi Torres. If there's a line, Torres is almost ALWAYS playing over it. If Jonathan Toews can go...Torres will look to take him out. That's the kind of game he plays. Brandon Bollig would be wise to get in his face early and often.
Ray Whitney led the Coyotes in scoring with 77 points. The guy simply doesn't age. He's a guy that's been "done" for 4-5 years. He's not done...far from it. Whitney is the kind of guy who's combination of savvy and skill will make him a dangerous weapon in this series.
The one true advantage the Coyotes have over the Hawks is in goal. Mike Smith has been absolutely phenomenal this season. His health is always a concern, but if the Coyotes win the series, it will be because of Smith. Without him playing out of his mind, the Coyotes have no chance.
This is a series the Blackhawks can, and should, win...with or without Jonathan Toews.
My prediction? Hawks in six.