The regular season has come to an end for the Chicago BlackHawks and with a quick look back one can say they did pretty damn good didn’t they? After all the complaining, bickering, goalie controversy, player bashing, player promoting and coach issues etc (from myself included) the Hawks finished with the 3rd most points in the NHL and second most wins, I would say that already is a successful season.
Here are some other notables:
- Patrick Kane hit the 30 goal plateau and finished with 88 pts for 9th in the NHL scoring race ahead of superstars Marian Gaborik, Ilya Kovalchuk, Dany Heatley, Zach Parise to mention a few.
- Duncan Keith finished with 69 pts and a +21. He finished with the same or more pts then players like Jarome Iginla, Ryan Getzlaf, Rick Nash, and Mike Richards. Keith was second for time on ice per game to Pitkanen by a mere 3 seconds. While many people write off Keith’s chances at a Norris comparing stats to Capitals Mike Green they need to take in consideration that Duncan played a lot more minutes per game and a lot more then Green shorthanded. (one of the main reasons Green did not make the Olympic squad) Throw in Doughty in the Norris contention as well, incredible defense-man.
- Rookie goaltender Antti Niemi posted a 26-7-4 record with 7 shutouts a 2.25 GAA and .912 save percentage..not bad for a rookie. Take us to the promised land my little finnish buddy!
- Only two players had a negative +/- on the season and that was Buff and Madden, you can count Skille too for the 6 games he played I guess
- 6 players with over 20 goals on the team
- Only 5 players played all 82 games for the Hawks, ahh a season of injuries
- Toews had another amazing year on face-offs having near a league best 57.3 %
- Led the league by a landslide with 13 short handed goals, Hossa with 5 of them which is tied for the most in the league.
Anyways that’s a short roundup of the year more to come at the end of the year. Now on to the playoffs!
Let’s take a look at the upcoming Western Conference match ups.
#1 San Jose Sharks vs #8 Colorado Avalanche
This is an intriguing match up where the Sharks who are known for having a great regular season only to fall in the playoffs versus a team who most predicted to be cellar dwellars in the league this year. The Sharks have arguably the best line in hockey with Heatley/Thornton/Marleau but after that their 4 line depth comes into question. However the team had enough depth to win the Western Conference by a single point and yet another solid season. They have one of the best d-men in the game in Dan Boyle anchoring the blue line.
The Avalanche have a plethora of solid young gunners in the likes of Stastny, Stewart and Matt Duchene and a decent back end led by Liles and Quincy with and outstanding goaltender in Craig Anderson. They did however lose Peter Mueller who has been incredible since coming over in the trade with Phoenix for Wolski.
All in all everything points towards a San Jose Sharks series win, but I will go against the odds and take the Avalanche in 7 games. What does it mean when someone predicts a team to win in 7 games? It means that a person has no clue and it is a toss up, a flip of the coin what have you. I guess my opinion here is that the Avalanche will somewhat shut down the Sharks top unit and Anderson will outplay Nabokov.
Avalanche in 7
#2 Chicago Blackhawks vs #7 Nashville Predators
Chicago has the most depth in the league up front and can roll 4 lines with anyone in the league it really is not close. With a healthy squad on defense I would pick the Hawks to win the cup with great confidence however they are not healthy on defense. No Brian Campbell and no Kim Johnsson means trouble and a rookie goaltender in Antii Niemi is always a question, Hawk fans are hoping Byfuglien, Boynton and Hendry can fill in admirably for the time being in hope for the return of Soupy and/or Johnsson who are both doubtful.
Nashville has in my opinion the best coach in hockey in Barry Trotz. He has his team playing a style that is tough to beat no matter what his roster looks like. While the Predators are somewhat thin up front for offensive scoring they are very strong in the back end with a fantastic goaltender in Pekka Rinne and a great defensive corps with the likes of Suter, Weber, and Hamhuis.
The predators play the Hawks tougher then anyone including the Canucks and Wings and I expect this to be a very tough series for both clubs. I feel home ice advantage in this series is huge and the Hawks should prevail simply because of the forward depth they have. It will be tough for any club to shut down the Hawks depth up front and with the lack of scoring from the Predators will be their downfall.
BlackHawks in 6
#3 Vancouver Canucks vs #6 Los Angeles Kings
Vancouver has very nice depth up front with the Sedin’s, Kesler, Burrows, Samuelsson and Raymond. Add in the likes of Demitra, Bernier and Wellwood this team has forward depth comparable to anyone. The real issue is the health of the defense without Mitchell, and ailing Erhoff and an undisciplined Bieksa. Luongo has had an up and down year but I think he will come through and prove the haters wrong. If the Canucks defense get healthy watch out for this club.
Los Angeles is such an exciting team to watch with the likes of Kopitar, Smyth, Brown, Drew Doughty and a fine young goaltender in Johnny Quick. The offense of the Kings is downright scary and tough to stop and Olympian Drew Doughty had better get some Norris trophy votes as this kid is unreal. The only issue is can Quick and the LA defense shutdown the high powered offense of the Sedin line? We shall see.
I think the Canucks are just too deep up front for LA to take them out and asking Quick to outplay Luongo in a playoff series is asking a lot. Can Quick steal a game or two for the Kings? Sure he can but can he steal 4 games I am not too sure about that. Vancouver is a monster at home having one of the best if not the best home records in the NHL. If LA can shut down the top line of the Canucks they have a chance but I don’t see that happening.
Canucks in 5
#4 Phoenix Coyotes vs #5 Detroit RedWings
What a pleasant surprise the Coyotes have been this year! Like the Avalanche this team was also predicted to be at the bottom of the standings this year and instead they finish 4th in the conference with the third best record in the West. With a Vezina like year for Bryzgalov in the net and outstanding overall team play this team had done the unthinkable this season. They do not have a superstar like almost all teams have but they get scoring from all 4 lines with solid defensive play and a system input from coach Dave Tippett that they play to a tee.
The oft injured Wings throughout most of the year did what everyone thought and came on strong once they got healthy. The reigning Western Conference champions are back in the mix and stronger then ever. Jimmy Howard has been incredible in his first season as the go to guy in goal and with 2 very solid experienced top lines and a defense corps next to none this team is downright scary. The Wings are not as deep as they have been in the past up front but they have enough depth to make a serious run.
I believe the Coyotes cinderella story will come to an end quickly unfortunately as the Wings will prove to be much to strong for the young yotes to handle. The experience of the Wings and solid d-corps will prove to be too much, Bryzgalov might be able to steal a game but the RedWings are on fire since the Olympic break and they are blood thirsty for another run at the cup.
Detroit in 4
This concludes my Western Conference playoff preview and stay tuned for my Eastern Conference analysis soon.
Would love to read and discuss your predictions for the Western Conference!
About the Author
Written by Trent Kondo
An all around sports fan and has been a Chicago BlackHawks supporter longer then he can remember. Currently writes for Prosportsblogging.com on the Blackhawks and NHLHotstove.com on the Edmonton Oilers. (If you would like to email feel free to contact Trent at TKONHOCKEY@gmail.com )