Blackhawks, Red Wings series a perfect end to division rivalry

Blackhawks, Red Wings series a perfect end to division rivalry

Back in the early 2000s, my wife Hope and I had just met.  Before we were "dating", we were just new friends who both loved the Blackhawks.  We had never been able to find anyone to tag along to games with us before we knew each other, so we'd often go alone.  When we met, we used and abused the $8 student discount ticket for nearly all 41 home games.

I think there's something about suffering together that brings a couple closer.  Those years of Blackhawk hockey would try anyone.  Steve Poapst, Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell and Kyle Calder were the guys we thought would bring the Cup home.  Night after night, it was disappointment after disappointment, and the Detroit Red Wings were a huge pain inflictor.  Our mutual hatred for the Winged Wheel was one of our earliest bonds.  Over our last 10 plus years together, the Hawks have became competitive, we've had a daughter, and a couple of weeks later, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.  We barely get to games anymore.  Time and perspective adjusts one's priorities.  Our hatred for the Wings has faded to a slight grumble.

Our five year wedding anniversary falls on May 24th (or the day after Game 4 of the Red Wings series).  It's going to be fun unleashing those years of hatred one last time.  It'll be so romantic.

I said it before the playoffs began, and I stand by it.  The Red Wings are the best possible matchup for the Blackhawks.

While the Wings were very impressive against the Anaheim Ducks, Detroit simply can't hang with the Blackhawks depth.

Let's take a look at some of the key positional comparisons :

FORWARDS

Blackhawks : We all know the names of the big guns, but it's the bottom two lines that separate the Blackhawks from the rest of the NHL. Find me a team in the league considering benching one of it's top leading scorers, like the Hawks might do with Viktor Stalberg.  Dave Bolland is back, and on the 3rd line where he belongs.  The Hawks have almost an embarrassment of riches up front.  No team in hockey, let alone the Western Conference can match their depth.

Red Wings : Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg remain two of the more electrifying players in the NHL.  They finished 1 and 2, respectively, in scoring for the Wings this season, but had a combined 1 point in their 4 games vs the Hawks.  Look for Bolland to line up opposite Datsyuk most of the series.  He's shut down top lines like the Sedins in Vancouver and Joe Thornton in San Jose in other playoff matchups.  Datsyuk and Zetterberg are the keys to the Wings' success.  If the Hawks can shut them down, it will be a short series.

DEFENSE

Blackhawks : After the Wings eliminated the Ducks this weekend, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock said, "(The Blackhawks have) 5 D that are flat out great skaters."  While Michal Rozsival wipes his single tear away, he should hold his head high as well.  He's part of the NHL's best defensive corps, despite his skating woes.  The Hawks shut down unit has been Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson.  Nick Leddy has played his best hockey as a Blackhawk since teaming up with Brent Seabrook, and Johnny Oduya and Rozsival were a huge part of the first round win vs Minnesota.  Joel Quenneville balanced the units' minutes throughout that series.  Expect the Keith and Seabrook pairs to see a bump in minutes as the playoffs go along.

Red Wings : Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson make up the Wings' top pair.  Kronwall is known to deliver crushing checks and play steady, if unspectacular, D.  Ericsson, who stands 6'4", is a solid, all around type d-man.  Ian White, Kyle Quincey and Carlo Colaiacovo are decent D men, but none of them would qualify as "shut down defensemen".  In fact, it'd be safe to say that any of their d-men, with the possible exception of Kronwall, would have trouble cracking the Hawks' top 4.

GOALTENDERS

Blackhawks : Corey Crawford let in 1 soft goal in the quarters vs the Wild.  He gave up 7 total goals in the entire 5 game series.  He leads the NHL in nearly every playoff statistical category (Pittsburgh's Tomas Vokoun has a higher save percentage), and has looked comfortable and confident.  Obviously, the Wild's offense doesn't typically set the world on fire, so the Wings will be a better test.  However, in his career Crawford has owned the Red Wings.  He's 11-2-2 with a 1.82 GAA and .943 save percentage.  He was a perfect 4-0 vs Detroit this season.

Red Wings: Jimmy Howard was good vs the Ducks (2.74 GAA, .911 SV%).  If the Red Wings are to stand a chance vs the Hawks, he'll have to be better than good.  Howard has been battling a sore hamstring throughout the playoffs.  He left practice early Tuesday, but is fully expected to be the man for the Wings in this series.  Can Howard steal a series for the Red Wings?  He better.

COACHING

I know it's sacrilegious to speak ill of Joel Quenneville, but Mike Babcock is the better coach.  He might be the best coach in the game.  Expect him to have a trick or two up his sleeve this series.  Historically, Quenneville is 0-5 as a head coach vs the Red Wings in the playoffs.

I know this comes off as the homer blog supreme, but this is my honest analysis.  I've tried to convince myself that the Wings can return to haunt my dreams, as they have so many times in the past, but it just doesn't add up.  If the Blackhawks remain healthy, and Crawford doesn't implode, the Hawks should need 6 games maximum to dispatch Detroit.

As a Blackhawk fan, I can not wait for this series to begin. It's going to be an outstanding end to a long time divisional, historical, Original Six rival who's leaving for the Eastern Conference next season.

--Tune in to 670 AM The Score or 670thescore.com as soon as Wednesday's game ends.  I'll be on the air with Wayne Randazzo taking your calls.
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