CHICAGO, Ill. — How fitting is this pairing of two Original Six teams that will battle it out for the last time as Western Conference and divisional opponents. The seventh-seed Detroit Red Wings will face the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks in a rivalry that dates back to the 1926-27 season. The two teams have faced each other more than any other pairing in the league. Detroit next season will move to the Eastern Conference with a possibility of facing each other in what would be an epic Stanley Cup Championship.
This season was a rare one as the Blackhawks might have not dominated on the ice but did with the final score as the Hawks won all for of those games with three going into extra time and the fourth with the Hawks winning soundly by the score of 7-1. This season has been a special one for the Hawks as it should erase the memories of the 2009 conference finals as the Red Wings eliminated the Hawks in five games the last time they faced each other in the playoffs. But the following season the Hawks won it all.
We cannot say enough of the depth of the Chicago Blackhawks. This was evident as the bottom two lines scored a good portion of the goals in the first round against the Minnesota Wild. Even the defensemen got into the scoring game with a couple. This was much needed as the regular season leaders of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane has yet to score a goal in the post season. Marian Hossa has been clutch as always and Patrick Sharp who has had an injury filled season leads the team scoring five goals in the first rounds. Coach Joel Quenneville now has a good dilemma to deal with as center Dave Bolland is set to return to the lineup following and injury that has kept him out of the series against the Wild.
As for the Red Wings, it has been a tough year offensively as the team ranked 20th in the league while the Hawks were second only to the Pittsburg Penguins overall. They have scored in the playoffs but the problem is that they let in just as many goals as they score. After the top line of veterans Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and youngster Justin Abdelkader, there is much depth in scoring with the other lines outside of Johan Franzen on the second tier.
In the first round, the Chicago defense has played at the top of their game just allowing on average two goals per game. Every defensive pairing contributed to the game from hits that lead to turnovers to scoring. Duncan Keith is third on the team in point in the playoffs with a goal and four assists while veteran Johnny Oduya has been contributing all over the ice scoring a goal himself and timely turnovers leading to goals. The way they play it makes you feel like there are two lines of defense before you get to your goaltender.
Once a powerhouse on defense, the Red Wings have fallen on tough times. At the beginning of this season, the team has seen the retirement of longtime captain Nicklas Lidstrom and the departure of Brad Stuart to the San Jose Sharks. Both were offensive defensemen whose plus/minus rating is usually in the top of the leagues for defensemen. Combined they were close to a plus-40 but this season, only Jakub Kindl was the lone defenseman to score in double-digits at a 16 rating.
Now that Ray Emery is fit enough to return to the lineup, he is a solid backup for Corey Crawford who has proven himself as the go-to goaltender for the playoffs. But Emery will perform well on an instant if needed to be called in. Crawford had owned the Red Wings this season as he is a perfect 4-0-0 and only allowed five goals in the four total matches.
Jimmy Howard started in all but six of the games for the Red Wings taking in all the work winning 21 games. His backup Jonas Gustavsson started in only four games this season and winning only half. Experience is going to be the key for this team. Who knows what might happen, look at what happened to the Wild when Josh Harding had to step in for the injured Niklas Backstrom right before the drop of the first puck in the series.
Who has the edge in coaching? That is a tough call to make with these two well respected coaches. Detroit’s Mike Babcock has taken his teams to the Stanley Cup Finals three times and twice with the Red Wings and winning it all in 2008. Babcock has a way of drawing the best out of his players even drawing more from his seasoned veterans to give him that extra push to get the job done.
As for Chicago’s Joel Quenneville, he might not have the experience as that of Babcock’s but he has taken the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 2010 for the first time since they last won in 1963. Quenneville is doing the same thing as in 2010 as he is doing now in that he is placing the right combination on the ice at any given time to give you the maximum benefit in the games. He is a master at adjusting, but is also helps that he has a team that has the depth that he has in front of him when a player can be interchanged with any line.
Chicago has been pretty consistent in their specials teams as they have killed every penalty without allowing a goal in these playoffs. The power play still is an issue for the team but it isn’t much of a worry are even strength goals compensate for their weakness with the man-advantage. This can change on a dime if the team starts getting some production for their regular season scoring leaders in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Detroit’s power play has gotten slightly better in the post season but the penalty kill production has gotten worse from an 81% to a 72% kill percentage. Both statistics place them at average with the rest of the teams.
These are two teams that have a long history second to none. Minnesota surprised the Blackhawks with a physical game that took them off guard with some success, but the Wild’s issue was that they couldn’t sustain the pressure. They exerted too much effort in playing keep away instead of trying to score. That shouldn’t be a problem in this series as both teams will come out playing a tough and physical game knowing the rivalry’s history and what is at stake. Depth is going to be the big advantage that the Blackhawks will have with a lineup that can field the top two lines on any team and then some. The mix of veteran and young defensemen mix well as the work ethic gets passed down making each pairing tough to play against. Overall the Blackhawks have all the tools needed to take this round, coach Quenneville has the blueprint to get the job done along with a few contingencies. Mike Babcock is a great general contractor who knows what he needs to help Detroit win but a few of the sub contractors need to pull 100% and then add some overtime to get to the end job.
Round 2 Western Conference Semifinals
(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings
Game 1 : Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, Wednesday, May 15, 7:00 PM CDT
Game 2 : Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, Saturday, May 18, 12:00 PM CDT
Game 3 : Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, Monday, May 20, 6:30 PM CDT
Game 4 : Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, Thursday, May 23, 7:00 PM CDT
*Game 5 : Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, Saturday, May 25, TBD
*Game 6 : Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings, Monday, May 27, TBD
*Game 7 : Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, Wednesday, May 29, TBD
* if necessary