On the final day of the NHL regular season the Chicago Blackhawks first round playoff opponent has ended up being the Phoenix Coyotes. The Blackhawks needed a regulation victory over the Detroit Redwings earlier Sunday to have any chance of locking up the fourth seed in the Western Conference but failed to do so and ended up winning in overtime.
Many of the Blackhawks fans were hoping for exactly what happened in that game as they didn’t want to face either Detroit or Nashville in the first round of the playoffs even if they did have home ice advantage. Did the Blackhawks think that way? Not a chance, they wanted that chance to get home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs and actually pulled the goalie while they were tied with Detroit in regulation to try to get that win. Chicago failed in doing so and will now face the third overall seed, the Phoenix Coyotes.
The statement the Hawks’ showed their fans in this game is that they really don’t have a preference in who they play in the playoffs and that’s how it should be. The top eight teams in the Western Conference is really a crapshoot on who comes out of there to go to the Stanley Cup final. Sure, odds makers will probably consider Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose as the least likely to come out of the West but each of those teams have intangibles that could propel them to the final.
Who wins this series? Well, the health of Jonathan Toews and Dave Bolland is critical for the Blackhawks future success in these upcoming playoffs, obviously. On paper, the skill level is heavily in favor of Chicago even without Toews and Bolland but one can’t deny the work effort of the Coyotes which propelled them to first in the Pacific Division.
Keys for Chicago to win:
- Must improve special teams play dramatically.
Special teams have been borderline disgusting for a team that is highly skilled as Chicago is and if they don’t improve vastly then their playoff run could be short.
- Crawford needs to play as well as he did in last year’s playoffs
Corey has had his ups and downs this season but of late he has been playing incredibly well, Chicago fans are generally worried about the goaltending but we feel he will be just fine.
- Need to improve their ability to hold on to a lead in any game
In many games this season, the Hawks’ have squandered leads late in games or even large leads early in games. Shut down defence is needed.
Keys for Phoenix to win:
- Mike Smith will need to keep up his stellar play in goal
With only 3 playoff games under his belt, Mike is somewhat of a rookie and will need to carry his great regular season play into the playoffs.
- Yotes star players will have to score at a solid pace
With the 14th ranked offence in the NHL it is not one of their strong points.
- Defence will have to shut down star power of the Hawks’
Chicago has a ton of speed so the Coyotes defence will have to neutralize that to limit scoring chances
Yes the playoffs are considered a “new season” but season long issues with teams such as special teams don’t just turn around in a few days but one would be surprised what the intensity of the playoffs bring.
All in all we have the Blackhawks winning this series in five games with or without Toews. We feel the Coyotes will not be able to keep up to speed with Chicago and if Crawford can match Smith in goaltending, which we think he will, this shouldn’t be a long series.
Of course, we all know anything can happen in the playoffs. Who do you think wins this series and in how many games?
Here is a look at the lineups for Chicago and Phoenix below. Please note, these lineups are in no particular order especially in the Hawks’ case where their lines are usually juggled every ten minutes during a game. Blackhawks Brandon Bollig could also see some ice time this upcoming playoffs as well and he is not on the charts below.