Chicago Blackhawks: Previewing Potential First-Round Matchups

Michael Gibbons@DachicagofanCorrespondent IIMarch 19, 2012

Chicago Blackhawks: Previewing Potential First-Round Matchups

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    Well the season is winding down and the battle for playoff positioning has begun.

    As it stands today the Chicago Blackhawks are looking like a lock for the six seed. They hold a five-point lead over the Phoenix Coyotes and trail the Red Wings and Nashville Predators by four points.

    While anything is possible it is safe to say the Hawks will not be able to catch the division leading St. Louis Blues, so the highest seed they can clinch would be the fourth. If they did end up as the four or five seed they would be looking at a first round matchup against one of their division rivals.

    If they fall out of the six seed they would face either the Blues or Vancouver Canucks, who are currently battling for the top seed in the West.

    For the purposes of this piece I am going to focus on whom they will face if they stay as the sixth seed. Interesting enough there are four possible opponents because the Pacific division is so tight.

    Only one point separates the four teams in the Pacific division who are competing for the playoffs. Anaheim is currently fifth in that division and is 11 points back so no real shot at the playoffs.

    So with nine games left on the schedule and no more games against these four how did the season series shake out against their four possible first round opponents?

Los Angeles Kings

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    Currently, the Kings find themselves in fourth place in the division, and if the season ended today they would be on the outside looking in.

    With that said, I'm not sure I would want the Hawks to be playing the Kings in the first round.

    The Kings have a great goalie in Jonathan Quick, who shut the Hawks out twice this season and only allowed four goals in four games.

    They also finally have some offense to go along with that goaltending, thanks to the acquisition of Jeff Carter at the trading deadline. Putting Carter with his former teammate Mike Richards—along with Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar—gives them an offense that can rival the Hawks.

    The Kings won the season series 3-1 with two wins in regulation and another coming in the shootout. For the Hawks, they started Crawford in three of the games and Ray Emery in one, also bringing him in as relief in another.

    Out of these four teams, this is the one that worries me the worst.

    November 26 at Kings. 2-1 Hawks victory.

    December 28 in Chicago, 2-0 Kings victory.

    February 25 at Kings. 4-0 Kings victory.

    March 11 in Chicago. 3-2 shootout Kings victory.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Currently, Phoenix is tied with the Dallas Stars for first in the division, but with one more game played, they are actually the seventh seed instead of the third.

    When it comes to the Coyotes, I am not as worried, but I know I should be.

    They won the season series 3-1, including a shutout, but if you look at their roster I just kind of wonder how they are doing it. They are a veteran team who, since settling on Mike Smith as their goalie, have been a much-improved team.

    The only game the Hawks won was the one Smith did not start.

    Overall looking at the four games they played everything is pretty even except the goals scored. Neither team is particularly good on the power play, with the Hawks scoring the only two power-play goals in the four games.

    Maybe I am underestimating them because of their recent playoff failures, but with Shane Doan and Ray Whitney both nearing the end of their careers, this could be their last chance to hoist the cup.

    October 18 at Phoenix, 5-2 Hawks victory.

    November 29 in Chicago. 4-1 Coyotes victory.

    December 5 in Chicago. 4-3 Coyotes victory.

    February 11 at Phoenix. 3-0 Coyotes victory.

San Jose Sharks

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    The Sharks currently are in third place in the division, but have played one game less than the Stars and Kings and two fewer games than the Coyotes. That means the Sharks really control their own destiny. 

    The San Jose Sharks don't worry me at all as a team. Only one guy on their roster worries me, and that is Antti Niemi.

    There is no denying that Niemi gets a little more motivated when he plays against his former team and, as Hawks fans know, he can carry a team through a playoff round.

    The season series was split, with the home team winning every game.

    For the Hawks, Corey Crawford started three games and went 1-2,  including a 1-0 Sharks victory in San Jose. Ray Emery won his only start, which was an overtime game.

    The Hawks power play struggled against the Sharks—as it did for much of the season—while in the last meeting, San Jose converted on three of their six chances.

    Much like last season with Vancouver, it would probably mean a lot to the Sharks to get past the Hawks since they swept them in the conference finals in 2010. Could payback be coming two years later?

    We'll just have to see how things shake out over the last few weeks.

    November 23 at San Jose. Sharks 1-0 victory.

    December 11 in Chicago. Hawks 3-2 victory.

    January 15 in Chicago. Hawks 4-3 victory.

    February 10 at San Jose. Sharks 5-3 victory.

Dallas Stars

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    If the season ended today, the Dallas Stars would be hosting the Blackhawks in the first round. They split the season series, with each team winning one at home and one on the road.

    Corey Crawford was in net for all four games and completed them all. He allowed eight goals to go along with a .920 save percentage.

    The Hawks faced three different goalies for Dallas, seeing their No. 1 Kari Lehtonen twice. The teams split those two games.

    One big area of concern has to be the Hawks' power play. They were only able to convert once on their 16 power-play chances against the Stars this season.

    That Stars also are a much more physical team: They outhit the Hawks 151 to 65 in the four games. 

    October 7 at Dallas. 2-1 Star Victory

    October 8 in Chicago. 5-2 Hawks victory

    February 23 in Chicago. 3-1 Star victory.

    March 16 at Dallas. 4-1 Hawks Victory