What Say I? Blackhawks in Six

Well folks, it appears as though most people aren’t going to give the Blackhawks much credit.

Just look at espn.com. All of their experts, including the likes of John Buccigross, Pierre LeBrun, Scott Burnside, EJ Hradek, and Barry Melrose, have all picked the Red Wings to win the Western Conference finals. Heck, even Paul Benvin of this website picked the Red Wings to win in five games.

Five games.

In my opinion, there are a lot of these writers who are failing to grasp something about the Hawks that a lot of Chicago-media types and fans are starting to understand: these Blackhawks aren’t afraid of anything.

The pressure of facing one of the toughest goalies in the entire NHL did not faze them. When Calgary and Vancouver tried to out-muscle the Hawks, they responded by hitting those two teams even harder. They won the hit battle 175-125 against Vancouver, and the toll showed in their 7-5 game six loss.

These Blackhawks take whatever game the other team throws at them and turn it against their opponent. The Hawks simply let Vancouver beat themselves, and in the process endeared themselves to fans across the country.

Those statements lead me to this one: the Blackhawks will beat the Detroit Red Wings in six games. They will take one of the first two games in Detroit, and then hold serve for the rest of the series at home. They can do this, and there are several reasons why.

  1. Three players (Sammy Pahlsson, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook) will help shut down Detroit’s potent offensive stars, much like they did to Daniel and Henrik Sedin.

The Canucks’ twin wonders had a wonderful series against the Blues, combining for nine points and a cavalcade of headaches for St. Louis in their four game sweep. Then, against the Blackhawks, they only mustered 10 points in six games, and they were rendered irrelevant for large chunks of the series.

This shutdown defense was largely the result of aggressive fore-checking by the Blackhawks and the play of their trade-deadline acquisition of Sammy Pahlsson. He helped to shut down the center of the ice where the Canucks make most of their plays and he would also jump passes, setting up odd-man opportunities.

This kind of defense is going to be key against the Wings, and while there is no player who can be on the ice at all times, these three guys will be key to stifling a lot of attacks by the excellent Detroit offense.

2. The Blackhawks will get enough shots on Chris Osgood to turn the tide of this series

In the Columbus series, the Red Wings allowed an average of 27 shots per game. Chris Osgood did not have to make any more than 31 saves in any of the games in that series. In addition, he only stopped 27 of 32 shots in game four.

In the Anaheim series, the Red Wings allowed a maximum of 28 shots in a regulation skate, and only 46 in a triple-overtime thriller in game two. In contrast, the Ducks and Jonas Hiller were peppered with 62 shots in the game.

These shot totals, and the low quality of a lot of the shots, are a testament to the skill with which Detroit plays defense. It is also an indication that Osgood likely hasn’t been tested enough to really cause any concern from the Detroit faithful.

Chicago doesn’t like to play games with their shots. They take a lot of them, and they like to create a lot of traffic in front of the net. Guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Jonathan Toews are going to be critical components of any Chicago success, because they will help generate traffic in front of Osgood.

If they are unable to for whatever reason, there are guys like Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp who have the capacity to slither through defenses and fire shots with pinpoint precision.

These two offensive tactics are critical to beating any goaltender, and they will definitely need to be in full effect to beat Ozzie and the Wings.

3. Jonathan Toews will live up to the “C” on his chest and deliver in this series

Jonathan Toews has shown a lot of mettle so far in these playoffs. As one of the youngest captains in the history of the league, he has led his team through all of the ups and downs of the season. He also does two things that are necessary for his team to win.

Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews

First off, he can score in multiple ways. He can fire a great wrist shot, slap the puck home in front of the net, or he can create offense by parking his keester in front of a goalie and laying down an effective screen.

The other thing he does is win face-offs in key situations. Not only is he currently 2nd among centers in face-off percentage, but he also wins them when the game matters the most. In game five of the first round, he won 80% of his face-offs, which proved to be a key factor in the Hawks winning the pivotal game of that series.

In game five of the second round, he won 66.7% of his face-offs, thereby helping win another pivotal game. In game six, he turned in his best performance yet, winning 83.3% of the face-offs in that game and helping the Hawks finish off the Canucks.

There is nothing flashy about Toews’ game, as he is the type of captain that not only wins over fans with his blue-collar style, but also wins games.

4. The Blackhawks’ four-line deep attack will prove to be a thorn in Detroit’s side

All of the talk surrounding the Blackhawks is about their two young stars, but in reality, there are plenty of other guys who can make offensive noise.

Guys like Dave Bolland, Kris Versteeg, Martin Havlat, and Cam Barker have made plenty of noise so far in this series, and the impact is even more evident with other guys like Andrew Ladd and Brian Campbell when they are on their games.

With this often-overlooked depth at their disposal, the Blackhawks should have no problem matching up with whatever line combinations the Red Wings can throw at them.

5. With most of the media picking the Red Wings, the Blackhawks are going to play with a chip on their shoulders.

The Blackhawks are not the type of team who is going to lie down in the face of a difficult challenge. In fact, the Hawks almost seem to thrive on challenges.

The biggest knock on them going into the playoffs was their lack of physicality. They had fun knocking the knock and hitting the crap out of the Canucks and the Flames in displays of physicality that had fans squealing with delight.

The other knock has been the standard refrain that you’ll hear old people saying in bad sitcoms: “you’re too young. Wait your turn.”

The Blackhawks don’t seem to pay much attention to that plea. In fact, they have been having so much fun that they probably haven’t noticed the nay-sayers waving their fingers at them.

While the Red Wings certainly won’t wilt under the pressure that comes with being the favorite, the Blackhawks will certainly thrive in the role of underdog, much like they did earlier in these playoffs.

As is always the case when a young team is going up against a much more experienced squad, there are plenty of people ready to write these Blackhawks off. I, however, am not one of those people.

I’m sure that David didn’t think much about this while he killed Goliath, but there is a certain phrase that comes to mind when thinking of this young Israelite, standing there with his slingshot and stones. That adage is a quote from Harvey Penick, the legendary golf teacher. His favorite saying was “take dead aim”. If the Blackhawks take the attack to the Red Wings, play their style of hockey, and keep their heads up, then they will win this series.

10 thoughts on “What Say I? Blackhawks in Six”

  1. One other thing I forgot to mention that goes to the experience factor. The Wings are 7-0 in this years playoffs when leading after two periods (going into tonight’s game). This is one other reason the ‘hawks will find it hard to beat them, you do not come back on the Wings because they know how to protect leads, unlike the Chicago’s last two opponents.

  2. I will give you Calgary over Columbus, but Anaheim hands down is a much better team than Vancouver could ever hope to be. Chicago only had to shut down the Sedin twins, while against Detroit they will need to shut down, Hank, Dats, Hossa, Mule, Cleary, Holmstrom, Samuelsson, Hudler, Filppula, and not to mention Lidstrom, Rafalski, Stuart, Lebda and Kronwall on D. Not an easy task for a top tier experienced team let alone a team like Chicago who has not been to the playoffs in like 12 years. Detroit will not wilt under pressure, Chicago will because of that lack of experience. The Wings would have swept both of Chicago’s opponents as they are that bad. Will this series be a sweep? No, I really expect it to go six games max, if Detroit takes game three than it will be over in four. Detroit is a different opponent than the ‘hawks have faced, as when they get a lead they do not lose it. Detroit’s D has not been a key at all in Ozzie’s GAA, as he has made some flat out spectacular saves this playoff run so far. His shots on goal are double what he face last year, when he averaged about 17 a game, now he is facing closer to 35 a game. That is not defense. Give credit where credit is due. The ‘hawks are an improving team (about time) and will press the Wings eventually, but not this decade.

  3. The Hawks have played better competition in the first two rounds than the Wings. I’m sure even you would agree Michael that the Blue Jackets pretty much laid down and died for the Wings (no offense Rick). They seemed to get star struck, and barely put up resistance to Osgood until Game 4.
    I also think Detroit’s defense has been a key for Ozzie’s good GAA and save percentage because they have kept the area in front cleared out and allowed Ozzie good sight lines on the puck. This isn’t a knock on him, but instead a compliment to Detroit’s defense.
    In addition, the Hawks are infinitely better with Khabibulin in net. Huet has been really inconsistent this season, and he doesn’t exactly have a pristine playoff record to fall back on either.
    Finally, I think that the Hawks depth was on display in Game 1, if you consider that their best line was arguably Adam Burish, Patrick Sharp, and Ben Eager. While Toews and Kane struggled, the Burish-Sharp-Eager line was hitting guys, and creating good scoring chances.
    Detroit flat outplayed us in this game, but I wouldn’t consider this series over by any stretch either.

  4. James, you are flat out wrong. For one, Detroit rolls four lines as well, lines that are deeper than any team in the league. They have players like Hudler, Filppula, Samuelson, that could be on other teams 1st lines, yet they routinely play on the 2nd, 3rd or 4th lines. What other tems do you know that can bring up players from the minors (Ericsson, Abdelkader, Helm) and step right into the lineup and play at a high level? NONE!! Not even your beloved ‘hawks. As far as clogging teh center ice and stalling the Detroit offense, Detroit will just take the puck and blow it past Chicago on the outside as evidenced by last nights game action. Detroit forces you to adjust to their game, and they better in game adjustments than anyone. And about Osgood, 9-3 record, 2.06 GAA, .922 SV%. What do ‘bulins stats compare? Lets see – 8-5 record, 2.86 GAA, and most telling is his .897 SV%. .897!!! You do not win cups with numbers like those. Osgood, 3 cups, 2 as a starter, ‘bulin 1 cup (more a product of the system than Osgood, if you remember they played the neutral zone trap when he won it. Tamps has not even made the playoffs since!) ‘bulin is past his prime and Chicago would probably be better served with Huet in goal, though the outcome would still be the same. Let’s not also forget that Detroit rolls six deep across the blue line, which is more than enough to shut down Chicago’s stars. Try doing a little unbiased research next time.

    • Michael – Jim was asked to be biased. We were looking to match up some thoughts on Detroit winning and on Chicago winning. Jim was asked to do the Chicago bit as it is his beat. Don’t be too hard on him.

  5. Paul, I was more trying to say that the Blackhawks will get more quality shots in on Osgood, and that they will hopefully have more success than the Ducks did in that respect. It’s kind of ironic you mentioned the no respect thing for Osgood, because Puck Daddy mentioned it too, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that Ozzie may be the most under-respected goalie in the game because of the quality of the defense in front of him. I do think though that the Hawks will get better pressure on him than Anaheim did at a lot of points in the series.

    Chris, thanks for the kind words, and I hope Dunk and Seabs will be at their best, because like you said, they truly hold the keys to the success of the defense.

  6. Great articles Jim and Paul.

    Fantastic to see such an original 6 matchup. Keith & Seabrook will have to be at their best and they have more than proved they are capable thus far.

    I see another 7 game series.

  7. There was a lot of talk about Anaheim not relying on their top line for all the offense, but when it was all said and done they were the only ones doing anything. The same will hold true for Chicago. Detroit is going to cloak the young Hawks in a blanket of frustration.

    And why must we constantly have the “Chris Osgood hasn’t been tested” conversation. I posted a reply in my own article about why the Wings are where they are, and the main reason is Chris Osgood. Anaheim tested him relentlessly and he took everything they had. Save of the game and quite possibly the reason Detroit won Game 7. . .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EonMbvcRVo

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