The Chicago Blackhawks will have a chance to erase some bad memories when they do battle with the Detroit Red Wings in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
For those that don’t recall, it was the Wings who disposed of the Hawks in five games in the Western Conference Finals back in 2009. In that series, the Hawks gave up 30 shots or more in every game, and coughed up five power play goals, including three in a 6-1 dismantling in Game 4 on home ice.
While there are several members of this year’s team, including Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who went through that shellacking, the focus will understandably not be so much on the past as it will be the here and now. The Hawks of 2013 are unmistakably the favorites to take down this series, but fans who jump over the line between confidence and cockiness need to tread carefully.
For one thing, the Wings are playing better than their seventh seeding would indicate. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg both really ratcheted up their games against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, with Zetterberg scoring three times and dishing out five assists in the seven game victory. What’s more concerning for Hawks fans is that he grew more dialed in as the series wore on, scoring all three of his goals in the final two games, both one goal victories for the Wings.
In addition to the hot play of their two star players, the Wings also have shown a propensity for coming through in tight games. In the series with the Ducks, five of the seven games were decided by only one goal, and the Wings won four of them, including three overtime contests. This performance, coupled with two clutch road victories in the series, shows that the Wings aren’t afraid of any situation, and if the Hawks make a mistake and take them lightly, they could be in for a rude awakening.
Finally, there is the knowledge of how hard the Wings played against the Hawks in the season series between the two clubs. Despite the Hawks going 4-0-0 against Detroit, three of those games ended up going to overtime, and two to shootouts. In addition, the Wings outshot the Blackhawks in the four games by an average of 31.5 to 28.5 shots per game.
With all of those reasons to believe that the series could be tighter than the seeds could indicate, there are several reasons for optimism for Hawks fans. The Wings’ blue line, which came into the season as a big question mark, lived up to that punctuation in this series. They gave up a two goal lead with less than four minutes left in Game 6, and nearly pulled the same trick in Game 7 before clamping down at the end. Against a team with four lines capable of scoring like the Hawks can roll out, the Wings could have a serious issue in stemming that tide.
In addition, the Wings, like most teams in the NHL, had a difficult time in solving the Hawks’ penalty killing unit during the regular season. In the four games, the Wings only managed to go 1-for-15 against the Hawks’ PK unit, and with the Hawks killing off every power play that the Minnesota Wild could muster against them, there’s no reason for an over-abundance of wisdom on the part of Detroit.
Finally, head coach Joel Quenneville has made it known throughout the several days of practices that the Hawks have had since their series wrapped up that he has no intentions of letting his team coast through another series. He has threatened to bench several big regular season contributors in Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg, and he has the depth to back up those threats.
Look for that kind of talk to light a fire under the rear ends of the Hawks’ players who have been struggling, and if that happens, then it’s going to be all systems go for Chicago.