After a roller coaster season that saw a horrendous 9 game losing streak, a concussion to their captain, misplaced and idiotic rumors of their coach getting fired & inconsistent play from their goalies and star players, the Blackhawks enter the playoffs with a legitimate shot to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup come June. Because of their schizophrenic nature, it’s been nearly impossible to figure out just how good this Hawks teams is, but they possess the ability to rattle of 16 wins in the next couple of months.
Coyotes goalie Mike Smith has given up a total of 2 goals in his last 5 starts, but Corey Crawford can’t be overlooked. I’ve said all season that Crawford had to be in net come playoff time if this team was going to make it out of the first round. Thankfully, Ray Emery has a comfortable seat on the bench right now. Crawford was sensational against the Canucks in the playoffs last year, and will need to play at that level again. The addition of Johnny Oduya has helped shore up the Hawks defense, but #50 can’t allow any soft goals early in this series.
The Hawks also need their stars (Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook & Marion Hossa) to play to their contracts. Much like an NBA team, the Hawks are built around their core players. When they don’t show up, they are extremely mediocre. When they do, however, they’re lethal. Hossa can’t go through the motions on penalty kills, Sharp will need to bury home his scoring opportunities & Kane will need to be in video game mode and creat multiple chances against Smith. He’s a hot goaltender, but let’s see how dominant he is with pucks flying at his head all night long.
But more than any of that, the Hawks need Jonathan Toews to play at his MVP ability. I don’t care about the 13-5-4 record in Toews’ absence. They’ll get bounced from these playoffs quickly if #19 isn’t playing at a Toews type level. If he shows a reluctance to battle in the corners, you’ll know he’s doubting himself. You simply can’t predict how he feels or how he’ll play. But I know the chance to win another cup is contingent on the captain playing unafraid, aggressive & as if his brain was never scrambled. If it’s true that Toews blacked out right before he crashed his car, that could be asking for a miracle.
You can ignore the regular season games between these two teams (The Hawks went 1-2-1 vs Phoenix). With Toews back (if he plays, of course), the Hawks have the firepower, speed, a potential brick wall in Crawford & depth to send the ‘Yotes packing in 6 games. Now, if Toews misses this series (if he doesn’t play in game 1, it’s impossible to imagine he’ll be back before round 2), the landscape changes and a 7 game war commences. The Hawks are in a precarious position with Toews, aren’t they? I’d hate to be the guy making the call on whether he plays or not.