Blackhawks should wish upon the Stars in playoffs
BY ADAM L. JAHNS firstname.lastname@example.org April 2, 2012 11:20PM
Updated: May 4, 2012 8:14AM
Here’s a “fun fact” about the Blackhawks’ potential opponents in the first round of the playoffs: Of the six teams the Hawks might face, they have a winning record against one.
That’s the Detroit Red Wings.
So while there’s a popular perception that the sixth seed and a matchup with the Pacific Division winner will be better than the fourth or fifth seed for the Hawks, there isn’t a preferred opponent or path.
“Be careful what you wish for,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s my line.”
Here’s our rankings of the Hawks’ potential first-round opponents from most favorable to most hazardous:
Record vs. Stars: 2-2
Back check: Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn and Michael Ryder are solid pieces, but the Hawks should be able to handle them in a series simply because their key pieces are better and more tested. Kari Lehtonen can steal wins, but he only has two games of playoff experience. The Stars also have the worst power play in the league. Facing Adam Burish would be a great story line.
Road ahead: The Stars have lost three of four and have tough games against the Sharks, Predators and Blues. They might miss the playoffs.
Record vs. Coyotes: 1-2-1
Back check: The Coyotes have given the Hawks problems with their style. Radim Vrbata (33 goals) is having a breakout season, while Mike Smith has starred with 35 wins. But there’s a reason they didn’t advance past the first round the last two years: They couldn’t match the depth and scoring of the Red Wings. The Hawks are built similarly.
Road ahead: The Coyotes can take the Pacific, especially with games against the Blue Jackets and Wild. Others have tougher schedules.
San Jose Sharks
Record vs. Sharks: 2-2
Back check: This has been a disappointing season for the talent-laden Sharks. A first-round exit could lead to an overhaul for the team, which already made changes in the offseason. Antti Niemi certainly would be motivated against the Hawks, but they’ve proven they can beat him. The Sharks remain a dangerous team with a top-five power play, but questions remain about their makeup.
Road ahead: The Sharks have games in Dallas and Los Angeles before hosting the Kings in their regular-season finale. A seventh- or eighth-place finish seems likely.
Detroit Red Wings
Record vs. Wings: 3-0-2 (one game left)
Back check: The Hawks match up well against the Wings, who have endured a rash of key injuries and went 4-8-2 in March. But they’re still the Wings, the epitome of sustained success. They’ve reached the second round in every season but one since the lockout. The Oilers upset them in the first round in 2006 and reached the finals, where they lost to the Hurricanes.
Road ahead: When the Hawks and Red Wings meet Saturday, they could be playing for a higher seed. The Wings have a game in hand and a point lead over the Hawks, but they also have tough games left against the Blues and Devils.
Los Angeles Kings
Record vs. Kings: 1-2-1
Back check: A matchup against the Kings could be problematic if they win the Pacific. Jonathan Quick has the potential to steal a series, and tough-minded coach Darryl Sutter has had the Kings playing closer to their potential since taking over in December. This is a pretty deep and skilled team that began the year with Stanley Cup aspirations. If Jeff Carter is healthy, he provides more offensive punch, which the Kings were lacking.
Road ahead: The Kings, who went 10-4-1 in March, end the season with back-to-back games against the Sharks. The Pacific might be decided in those two games.
Record vs. Predators: 2-4
Back check: Two years ago, the Predators came close to taking out the Hawks in the first round. Last year, they made it to the second round for the first time in team history before falling to the Canucks. This year, they’re considered a dark horse for the Cup. The Predators went 16-5-3 against the Central Division this year. They’ve played well against the Hawks thanks to their clogging style of defense. The Predators have a strong defense led by two All-Stars, they roll three solid lines and goalie Pekka Rinne is as good as it gets.
Road ahead: They have a relatively easy schedule left with games against the Wild, Stars and Avalanche. The No. 4 seed is within their reach.