By: Dan Leach
Follow Dan Leach on Twitter @dtmleach
Be careful what you wish for cause you just might get it! That is what Wings fans are faced with now as the team, fresh off its upset of the Ducks, gets the best team in hockey in the Chicago Blackhawks. It is fitting that one of the most anticipated series in recent playoff memory for Detroit comes against its arch rival, both members of the Original Six, in the last year they could face each other before the Stanley Cup Finals, as the Wings move East next season.
This series has all the makings of a classic if the Wings can get off to a good start. I think taking at least one game in Chicago to start the series is pivotal and the only real way the Wings can win this series. Let’s face it, the Blackhawks are the best team in hockey, but after a record setting start to the seasons they definitely cooled , and the Wings played them very close in three of the four regular season meetings. Let’s take a look at who has the edge in all of the key categories.
Chicago-The Blackhawks can score and score in bunches and were the number two goal scoring team in the NHL during the regular season with 149. They have so many options that can put the puck in the net and slowing them down will be a key factor for the Wings if they are going to have a chance in this series. Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews each scored over 20 and Marian Hossa scored 17 in the regular season, but Kane and Toews were shut out in the first round. Patrick Sharp has really come on as of late and was the Hawks leading goal scorer against the Wild with five. Bryan Bickell was also a major factor in the first round scoring three and is an x-factor in the series against Detroit. Defenseman Duncan Keith has also shown the ability to score key goals and is a difference maker for the Hawks when he scores.
Detroit- The Wings offense showed flashes of brilliance throughout the series against Anaheim and at times looked completely dominant. They will need to start with that kind of play if they are going to put any fear into Chicago and have to keep throwing the puck at the net as often as possible like they did when at their best in round one , but with quality shots. Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk arguably will be the two best players on the ice in this series. The pair really seemed to gel towards the end of the Ducks series and were key in helping the Wings advance. When those two are on the Wings are very hard to beat. Justin Abdelkader’s ability to score will be a major factor to the Wings success and Johan Franzen, who was hot toward the end of the regular season, will need to keep that up against Chicago. Damien Brunner has come along really nicely for the Wings and had a huge OT winner in the series against Anaheim.
Chicago-The Hawks playing a bruising defensive style and can really make it a monumental task to control play in their end. Michal Rozsival has been outstanding and Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson both had the highest +/- during the playoffs at +5. Rozsival and Johnny Oduya have been phenomenal at blocking shots all season and were excellent in the series again the Wild. Nick Leddy struggled in the first round against Minnesota, but has the ability to get in your head. The Blackhawks can truly shut you down when they are playing at their best defensively and rarely make bad mistakes in their own end.
Detroit-I feel that the young and inexperienced Wings D played their best game of the season when it mattered most in game seven against the Ducks. That being said as a unit they have been a big time liability at times this season and will need to play much more like game seven then much of the series against Anaheim if the Wings are going to have a chance to beat the Blackhawks. The Wings defensive youth is also an advantage as many of them are getting their first taste of playoff hockey and are playing with a naivety that isn’t allowing the pressure of the moment to get to them. The bad turnovers by players like Kyle Quincy have to be limited and D-men like Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl are going to have to play the best hockey of their young careers.
Chicago-The Hawks have been as good as you can on the penalty kill as they have yet to give up a goal in the postseason. As good as they have been on the PK they have been equally as bad on the power play with an efficiency of just 15.4, which is 11th of the 12 playoff teams.
Detroit-The Wings have had a rough time on the penalty kill at just 72% , but have been very good on the power play at 24%, 4th best of the playoff teams.
Chicago-Corey Crawford was great in their first round series against the Wild. He was 4-0-1 with a 1.32 GAA and made some spectacular saves throughout. He is playing some of the best hockey of his career, but does not have a ton of playoff experience which could become a factor if the series gets tight. He is only 9-8-1 in his playoff career through 19 games
Detroit-Say what you will about Jimmy Howard, but the bottom line is he has been the Wings MVP this season, was a huge factor in getting them past Anaheim, and arguably played his best playoff game in the penultimate game seven against the Ducks. Howards GAA needs to come down from the 2.74 so far this postseason, but I believe Howard is getting hot at the perfect time and is ready to prove he is an elite goaltender.
Chicago-Joel Quennville took the Blackhawks to their first Stanley Cup since 1961 in 2010. He has long been considered one of the NHL’s great coaching minds and has had success in his previous stops in St Louis and Colorado, but really come into his own in the playoffs in Chicago in 2009 and 10. He did lose in the first round in both 2011 and 12, so he does have a lot to prove this time around with what many feel is the NHL’s most talented team.
Detroit-Mike Babcock is simply one of the best coaches in hockey these days winning both a Stanley Cup and Olympic Gold Medal in the last five years. He always gets the most out of his players and might have done one of his best coaching jobs this season with all of the Wings injury and depth issues. His lineup changes in the Anaheim series were masterful and he really has seemed to have the team playing its best hockey when it has mattered most this season.
DTM PREDICTION MACHINE OFFICIAL SELECTION- WINGS IN 7 –This is going to be a lot of fun and the Blackhawks are clearly the more talented team, but that is why the NHL Playoff ‘s are so special. Throw out the seedings and favorites and the great equalizer always seems to be desire. These two teams know each other very well, don’t like each other very much, and know what is at stake when they face each other with the right to go to the Conference Finals. Many will say the Wings are playing with house money. I don’t see it that way as the Wings might have been the underdog against the Ducks, but when they are at their best are capable of beating anyone in this year’s unique NHL season.
Look for the Wings to come out strong in both games in Chicago taking at least one and coming back to the Joe with a ton of confidence. When you gave two of the best players in hockey and a goaltender that is fast proving he is capable of putting his team on his back, you have what it takes to slay the giant. Look for Detroit to show you why they are still the best franchise in hockey as they shock many and take down the heavily favored Blackhawks in what is going to be an epic series.
TOP GOAL SCORER- HENRIK ZETTERBERG
TOP POINTS-PAVEL DATSYUK
SERIES MVP-JIMMY HOWARD