The shortened, 48-game NHL regular season is over and the conference seeds and matchups are set. It’s time for some playoff hockey.
Here in the Midwest, we’re lucky to see two of our own teams face off in the first round. The No. 1 seed Chicago Blackhawks and the No. 8 seed Minnesota Wild played each other three times in the regular season with Chicago winning two out of the three matchups.
This will be the first time the two teams have played each other in the postseason, so these should be interesting games to watch.
It’s hard to play any better than the Chicago Blackhawks did in the regular season. They won the Presidents’ Trophy with a 36-7-5 record, their goaltenders will share the Jennings Trophy, and their top players, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, lead the team in points.
It’s also hard to agree any other team in the league – besides the Pittsburgh Penguins – have better scoring forwards. Chicago is extremely dangerous on offense. You would think that would translate into a stellar power play as well, but it hasn’t. The team finished 19th in the league on the power play, and in postseason games where every goal’s value is exponential higher, not being able to score when a man up could come back to hurt them.
Minnesota spent a lot of money to bring in both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter via free agency. For the most part, it has worked out. But Parise can’t be expected to shoulder the whole offensive load. The team’s lack of depth on offense doesn’t bode well for this first-round matchup. Where the ‘Hawks fall short, the Wild must be great. Minnesota’s power play ranked 16th in the league, but it has to be a major threat in this series if they want a chance at upsetting Chicago.
Both teams are going to need great performances from their netminders.
Blackhawks backup, Ray Emery, will miss game one, and it’s not certain when he’ll be back, so we’re going to see Corey Crawford in net for Chicago. Crawford was awful last postseason, but he had a stellar regular season, posting career bests in all major categories. The 28-year-old needs to keep a level head, and as long as he does, the ‘Hawks should be fine.
Niklas Backstrom didn’t play well either the last time the Wild were in the playoffs in 2008. He is a consistent goaltender during the regular season, but he’s going to have to improve his play, and be nearly perfect, against the ‘Hawks to give his team any chance of winning the series.
After watching how the teams played each other during the regular season, and seeing how much better the Blackhawks are in terms of talent and depth, it’s not going to be a tough series for Chicago to win.
Blackhawks win series 4-1