Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Why the Blackhawks Worry Me

I'm glad the Bruins are in the Stanley Cup Finals so we can focus on something other than Tim Tebow.

I've heard the Blackhawks being compared to the Penguins, who were dispatched with ease by the Bruins. And I can see some surface similarities. Chicago scored almost as many goals as the Penguins in the regular season. They have big names like Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Toews. They've recently won a Cup. Et cetera.

These Blackhawks are NOT the Penguins. The Penguins had goaltender issues, the Blackhawks don't. Corey Crawford might not be a household name, but he had a 1.94 GAA and .926 save percentage in the regular season. He also had a 19-5 record. In the playoffs he has a 1.74 GAA and a .935 save percentage. Rask is at 1.75/.943 for comparison.

The Blackhawks do not depend on their power play to score. They scored the second most goals in the NHL but had the 19th best power play percentage. They score 5-on-5. And that's dangerous because they don't rely on penalty calls to generate offense. Their PP was 1 for 14 against the Kings (7.1%), and is 7 for 51 in the playoffs (13.7%).

They're capable of playing defense. Their talented forwards don't sell out on offense. And they have defensemen and a goalie that can prevent goals. They allowed 102 goals in the regular season, fewest in the NHL. Their penalty kill was 3rd best in the League (the Bruins were 4th best). And Chicago just finished a defensive minded series against the LA Kings. They also beat the Red Wings in a low-scoring Game 7, 2-1 in overtime.

They have more character than Pittsburgh. They came back from a 3-1 series deficit to beat Detroit. They grinded out wins against the defending champions. And during their 21-0-3 start to the season they found ways to win every night. They didn't simply roll over less talented opponents. They stole games in that streak.

And as well as the Bruins played against Pittsburgh, they've been a Jekyll and Hyde team all year. Even against the Penguins, they played outstanding in Games 1 and 2, poorly during regulation of Game 3, and flat in Game 4. Which Bruins team will show up in this series?

So I'm not as confident, not as comfortable, not as sure as most people seem to be about this series.

This series is going to be decided by small, slim margins. Both teams struggle on the power play. Whoever can get some production from their PP unit could be the difference in a game, maybe even the series.

Both goaltenders are playing well. Rask is probably the hottest goalie in the NHL. If he comes down to earth a bit, the skaters in front of him need to play better. Same goes for Crawford. If Crawford cools, then the pressure will be on the Blackhawks to step up and support him. I feel like one of these goalies is going to have a shaky game. Not a horrible game, just allowing a soft goal or two. Which goalie will it be? Neither was a starter when these teams won Cups. Crawford is 28, Rask is 26. One goalie having an off-night could be the difference in the series.

Which cold scorer will get hot? Tyler Seguin has 1 goal and 3 assists in the playoffs. Jonathan Toews has 1 goal and 8 assists. Which one of these guys will score a few goals in this series? Both of these guys are capable of winning games with their offense. One of them could steal a game with a pair of goals.

I hesitate to announce my prediction for the series. I don't want to pick against the Bruins. I don't want to pick against a hot goalie. So I won't. Bruins in 7.

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