Defending Stanley Cup Champs Back In (to) Playoffs
But if you are looking for an apology from them or their faithful fans you won’t be getting it. Not from a defending Championship team that lost nine players including goalie Antti Niemi and skilled general pain in the neck, Dust Byfuglien. In a conference that saw 5 points separate positions 10th through 4th, the Blackhawks know that sometimes you have to get a little lucky along the way.
The Hawks first round match-up will see them face a recurring post-season nemesis in the Vancouver Canucks, this year’s President Cup winner for team with the most points in the regular season with 117. A Canucks team that despite the gifted talents of the Sedin brothers and Jennings Award winner Roberto Luongo, have simply not had an answer, in recent years, for the aggressive forecheck of the Blackhawks and poor defensive match-ups against the Hawks skill players.
However, this is a brand new year and unlike years past, the Canucks are mature, battle tested, and confident. Contrast that with a Hawks team that no longer has the luxury of depth by rolling 3 and even 4 lines. In fact, coach Joel Quenneville, in an attempt to keep his top line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa fresh for a late push if needed Sunday, instead cost his team a victory against Detroit in the last game of the season. By employing a fourth line consisting of Jake Dowell, Bryan Bickell, and Fernando Pisani with significant minutes, his plan backfired as the line went for a +/- minus 3.
Injuries affect all teams and the Blackhawks have been no exception. However, the timing couldn’t be worse for the Hawks with several players getting hit with the injury bug the last part of the season including Jordan Hendry, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. With Hendry out for the year and Sharp just recently having returned to the ice, Bolland and Brouwer, both key players, in terms of depth and special teams, are currently unavailable and their status for the series, which starts Wednesday, is in doubt.
If the Blackhawks are going to get out of the first round, several things need to happen. First and fore most being, quite simply, having a healthy Bolland and Brouwer available. Bolland is consistently tasked with matching up against the opposition’s top line defensively and is a key factor to the Hawks penalty-killing unit. That unit has struggled overall as a whole and can be described as woeful at best ranking just 25th in the league after being near the top of that category last year. Bolland’s absence will only compound things for the Hawks PK.
All that aside, goaltending will be what ultimately decides this series. Roberto Luongo has played the role of goat in recent years and will need to rise above previous post-season failures. Conversely, the Hawks are hoping to once again catch lightning in a bottle and ride rookie goaltender Corey Crawford to the promised land as they did with Niemi last year.