Senior editor Rich Diaz and myself each decided to pick a Western conference series to preview before and in addition to our Islanders series primer as they get ready to face off with the Pittsburgh Penguins. We solicited the assistance of the editors at the other 4 sites as well and their thoughts as well as links to their fantastic websites are included in the below. Rich and I each picked our second rooting interests behind the Isles – The Blues and Blackhawks.
Middletown, N. J. – The Chicago Blackhawks were an absolute wrecking ball in this abbreviated 2013 season, mowing down all opposition to the tune of a record-setting unbeaten streak and overall record of 36-7-5. The Minnesota Wild on the other hand edged into the playoff picture on the last Saturday night and ended up with the #8 seed.
The darlings of the off-season after the signings of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to matching contracts, Minnesota finished at 26-19-3. They were actually pretty average across the board, finishing 22nd in goals per game, 15th in goals against, 16th on the power play and 18th on the penalty kill.
Can they take down the mighty Hawks and derail Chicago’s hope of a second Stanley Cup championship in four years? Let’s quickly analyze…
Chicago is as deep as they come in the Western conference and can roll 4 lines with ease. They are clearly led up front by do it all captain Jonathan Toews (23-25-48) and super dangler Patrick Kane (23-32-55). When you sprinkle a little Marian Hossa (17-14-31) and Patrick Sharp (6-14-20) to go along with a dash of exciting rookies Brandon Saad (10-17-27) and Andrew Shaw (9-6-15) you can see just how tasty that recipe now looks.
Minnesota is led by assistant captain and local hero Zach Parise, who had a very consistent offensive season by his standards (18-20-38). Riding on the back of that train are captain Mikko Koivu (11-26-37), Devin Setoguchi (13-14-27) and struggling Dany Heatley (11-10-21).
EDGE : Chicago by 2 pan style pizzas.
Duncan Keith plays a ton of minutes on the Hawks blueline and is always paired up with Brent Seabrook. They are the most consistent and reliable pairing that coach Joel Quenneville rolls out. Super sophomore Nick Leddy and veteran Johnny Oduya compliment nicely.
For Minnesota, their blue line behind Suter is very young and inexperienced, with Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, Justin Falk and Clayton Stoner looking to establish themselves in the playoff landscape.
EDGE: Chicago by 1 pan style pizza.
Corey Crawford comes into this series as the biggest question mark surrounding the Blackhawks. Can he live up to his gaudy regular season statistics and put away the pressure that these series always seem to bring?
For the Wild, Niklas Backstrom won 24 games and finished at 2.48, .909 – not exactly the eye-popping numbers when you look across the ice tomorrow night but adequate. Backstrom is no rookie and just might be able to handle himself better than Crawford.
EDGE: EVEN – Nobody gets pizza, they order chinese instead.
EYES PREDICTION: Chicago’s depth proves too much for Minnesota. Crawford stumbles a little allowing the Wild a glimmer of hope but the Blackhawks win this series comfortably in 5.
WE CONTACTED THE RESPECTIVE EDITORS FOR BLACKHAWKUP AND GONEPUCKWILD FOR THEIR THOUGHTS ON WHAT THEY FELT WERE THE MAIN KEYS FOR THEIR TEAM TO WIN THE SERIES. PLEASE GO TO THEIR WEBSITE FOR COMPLETE UP TO DATE SERIES INFORMATION.
First, Keith Schultz of Blackhawk Up….
1. Corey Crawford- Crawford doesn’t have to stand on his head for the Hawks to win, but he has to stop everything he should stop. His stats are improved over last year, but he has the ability to let a very soft goal in which can turn the tide
2. Don’t open the door even a crack, with a 1 vs 8 you cannot give the 8 any thought of winning. Last year the Kings won game one and never looked back.
3. The Hawks powerplay has to show up or at least not hurt them. The one weakness the team has is the powerplay. The hawks have to be productive with the man advantage and not let the Wild build momentum from a penalty kill.
And the retort by Dakota Case of GonePuckWild….
1. Minnesota has to win face-offs. This was a major issue late in the game against Colorado in the Wild’s must-win victory over the Avs. It seemed like Mikko Koivu, Matt Cullen and Kyle Brodziak couldn’t win a draw in any zone to save their life. It was especially nerve-wracking in the final five minutes when Colorado kept winning the draw, dictating the play in Minnesota’s zone and the Wild were having to resort to icing the puck on numerous occasions to get it out of the zone. Chicago is one of the best face-off teams in the league, so Minnesota has to be at the very top of their game when taking draws against the likes of Jonathan Toews, Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw.
2. The Wild need to play smart hockey. Make plays when you can make plays, but don’t be afraid to chip the puck past defenders into the offensive zone. The more time the other team spends chasing the puck in its own end, the less time spent in yours. You also have to maintain control of the puck. Take a look at the Detroit Red Wings of the past 22 years. They are a very good puck possession team. If you control the puck, you dictate the play. That’s exactly what Minnesota needs to do against this offensive-minded Chicago Blackhawks team. This team has to be outplayed, and the only way to do that is to play safe, smart hockey while maintaining control of the puck, thereby dictating the play.
3. The final piece of the puzzle is playing an aggressively physical, offensive style of play. It may seem like the exact opposite of what’s said above, but it really isn’t—it’s just the yin to the yang. Look at the way the Wild played against Los Angeles recently. They maintained control of the puck, chipped it past opposing players into the offensive zone, spent extended periods of time dominating LA’s end, clogged up traffic in the neutral zone and shut down any and all shooting lanes in the defensive zone—it was just an overall dominating performance against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, pure and simple! If they can do that against the Kings, they can do it against Chicago.
We want to thank the editors for their time in granting this access to EyesOnIsles. We wish each of you best of luck in your series. We will keep our ‘eyes’ on it at all times.