Ladies, order it’s time to get back into Blackhawk mode because the second round of the NHL Playoffs begins on Wednesday night. After eliminating the Minnesota Wild last Thursday night and five days rest, mind the Hawks continue on their quest for the Cup with their next opponent none other than the long standing division foes, ed the Detroit Red Wings.
This is a matchup written for the story books, one that Hawks fans get giddy about thanks to the storied rivalry between the two Western Conference foes and one that will come to an end after this series (more on that later).
But before I dive into the details of what you need to know to be dangerous this round, let’s quickly recap. The Blackhawks moved past the Minnesota Wild in the first round (the Western Conference Quarterfinals) in five games. A rather easy series, Corey Crawford wasn’t challenged in net that often and the Blackhawks got contributions from their third and fourth lines the most, and were still able to get past the Wild in one game short of a sweep, without their big guns really contributing.
The Red Wings are the number seven seed in the West and just squeaked into the playoffs. They drew the number two seeded Anaheim Ducks (the team most had the Blackhawks facing in the Western Conference Finals) for their first round opponent. Detroit shocked not only the Ducks but the rest of the NHL, taking the Ducks to seven games and winning the series 4-3, proving that ANYTHING can happen in the playoffs when the Cup is on the line.
How did these two matchup this season? The Blackhawks swept the Red Wings 4-0 in their regular season match-ups which would lead many to believe that this second round series will be a piece of cake. Think again my friends, this is the playoffs. Look for both teams to come out hungry and hot with a chip on the shoulder thanks to the respected rivalry that has prevailed between the two all these years. These two teams do not like one another, guaranteeing an intense series with a lot of big hits and chippy play.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH (and names to drop) FROM THE RED WINGS:
Center Henrik Zetterberg:
Captain Zetterberg had a great first round versus the Ducks and was the leading scorer for the Red Wings with three goals and five assists. He is one of the best players not only on the Red Wings roster but in the NHL. The Blackhawks will need to have their defenseman on Zetterberg at all times. The Jared Leto look alike can not only score, but he moves the puck around so well that it’s no surprise he was a top leader in the assists category this season.
Goalie Jimmy Howard:
Howard found his groove at the end of the season after a rough start. When Howard is on, there is no doubt he is one of the premier goalies in the league. He is a big goalie and does well in the crease. He uses his size and can catch forwards off their game with his presence in the net. He was the main reason why the Red Wings upset the Ducks; he limited the Ducks superstars to peanuts and came up big in the clutch.
Center Valtteri Filppula:
Filppula did not have a good series versus the Ducks. He had one assist in the first five games against Anaheim. He had a strong Game 7 — and now has six career points in Game 7s (let’s hope it doesn’t come to that). However, the Red Wings will need a strong effort from him against the Hawks.
KEY PLAYERS TO WATCH (and names to drop) FROM THE BLACKHAWKS:
Center Patrick Sharp:
After an injury filled season, Sharpie bounced back in a big way. He had five goals and one assist versus the Wild. He is back to his 2010 playoff form, and not only producing offense but getting physical when needed.
Left Winger Bryan Bickell:
Bickell was a HUGE part of the Blackhawks dominance versus the Wild not only did he produce offense scoring three goals and one assist, he, was vital on the penalty kill and power play along with his line mates Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw. If Bickell and the third line can continue to produce, it will take pressure off the top two lines that besides Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane, haven’t been producing.
Goalie Corey Crawford:
With the lower body injury to Ray Emery prior to the start of the playoffs, Crawford needed to step up for the postseason as the only available goalie, and boy did he. ‘Crow’ posted a 4-1 record in the first round of the playoffs and had a 1.32 goals against average the second best in the first round. Even though Ray Emery will most likely dress for the second round, Coach Q is likely to stay with Crawford in net versus the Red Wings. Hopefully, the pressure of knowing his backup is now ready to go at a moment’s notice, will not be a mental distraction for Crawford in the second round.
WHAT PEOPLE WILL BE TALKING ABOUT DURING THIS SERIES:
- Are the Blackhawks first two lines going to show up for this series? The top two lines where less than stellar in the first round versus the Wild. If the Blackhawks want to make this a short series, and eventually get to the Stanley Cup Finals, they are going to need production from ALL lines.
- Hart Hangover? Neither Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane where nominated for the Hart Trophy (the trophy awarded to the league MVP). Will these two make a statement that they were snubbed?
- Goalie Drama? Who is going to come out the hero in between the pipes this series? Both Howard and Crawford are HOT, one needs to cool off and look for the other team to take advantage.
- The End of a Storied Rivalry. This will be the last time the Blackhawks and Red Wings will play in the Western Conference. With the new NHL realignment the Red Wings are headed to the Eastern Conference. This has been a fierce rivalry for years, and both teams want to shut down the others quest for the cup and close the record books as the team that sent the other packing.
Game 1: vs. Red Wings, Wednesday, 7 p.m., NBCSN
Game 2: vs. Red Wings, Saturday, noon, WMAQ-Ch. 5
Game 3: at Red Wings, Monday, 6:30 p.m., NBCSN
Game 4: at Red Wings. May 23, 7 p.m., NBSCN
Game 5-*: vs. Red Wings, May 25, TBD
Game 6-*: at Red Wings, May 27, TBD
Game 7-*: vs. Red Wings, May 29, TBD
*– If necessary. (All times Central)
WHAT’S NEXT/MY PREDICTION:
The Blackhawks owned the Red Wings in the regular season. Hopefully, they have the same results this postseason and can close out the Red Wings early in the second round. However, I don’t think it will be as easy as it looks on paper. The Red Wings are playing some great hockey. They beat a proven Ducks team, and the Blackhawks although they dominated in the first round, didn’t have much competition from the Wild. My prediction is that the Hawks will get past the Wings, however they will need six games to do it.