NHL Playoffs: Why the Chicago Blackhawks Will Beat the Detroit Red Wings in 6
Boy, that was easy to predict.
Now comes the tough part. That would be explaining why Chicago will advance past its longtime Original Six rival. This will be the last meeting between the organizations before the Red Wings skip off to a new conference via realignment.
The proceedings get underway Wednesday night at the United Center when the puck drops on what should be a classic series between two talented teams. Detroit arrives to the party after rallying from a 3-2 deficit to knock off Anaheim in their quarterfinal matchup.
The 'Hawks have been awaiting an opponent since closing out Minnesota in five games in the first round. We can expect these games to be hotly contested. However, here are five reasons why Chicago prevails.
1. Chicago Plays Detroit's Game Better Than the Red Wings
Both the 'Hawks and Red Wings look to get possession of the puck and use their team speed to bring it into the opposing zone. Four or five years ago, Detroit had a decided advantage in this area, which is why they were such a frustrating opponent.
In 2013, this is not the case. Chicago is more proficient at this style than the Red Wings.
The key is getting that puck, as Detroit has three centers who finished the first round well over break-even at the faceoff circle. Pavel Datsyuk won 55.8 percent of his draws, as did Valtteri Filppula. Both players were around that percentage in the regular season.
Jonathan Toews is going to have to maintain his dominance in this area and get some help. Michal Handzus is going to have to be better at the dot than he was in the first round, or he shouldn't be on the ice. Patrick Sharp is going to have to take and win draws.
If the 'Hawks can stay competitive in faceoffs, they figure to be able to maintain control of the puck and, therefore, the pace of the games.
2. Chicago Possesses the Better Defensive Unit
The 'Hawks are more effective on the blue line. This is going to be a major storyline in this series if both units play to form.
Chicago's top pairing, which is currently Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, will be charged with stopping Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader. Detroit coach Mike Babcock may move Zetterberg to a different line on occasion to create a more balanced attack, but my guess is that the three will be together more often than not.
Going up against Chicago's top forward line is Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson. From there, the advantage in depth is in favor of the Blackhawks. In a series like this, Chicago's lower-line forwards should be able to expose Jakub Kindl, Carlo Colaiacovo, Kyle Quincey and Brandon Smith to the tune of key goals.
3. The Blackhawks Are Younger and Deeper
Team depth is on the side of Chicago, with players like Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw and Viktor Stalberg coming up big in the playoffs.
A storyline to watch could be how 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville decides to employ Stalberg, who has the speed to burn Detroit's bottom two pairings. ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers reported that Quenneville used Ben Smith on Chicago's third line in practice Monday in preparation for the series. Powers tweeted Tuesday morning that Stalberg was a man without a line again at Tuesday's practice.
I'm not sure I agree with this strategy, as Stalberg's skating ability could pay dividends against the Red Wings. Use Smith on the fourth line, but keep Youngblood in the lineup.
Even if Stalberg winds up being a health scratch, the bottom six on the Indian head side will play a big part in winning this series.
4. This Is Not an Opponent the 'Hawks Can Overlook
Sure, the Blackhawks swept the season series in 2013. They are not facing the Red Wings powerhouses of the past but the Western Conference's seventh seed. Chicago is 12-2-2 against Detroit over the last three seasons.
Nonetheless, this is a team that can still play hockey.
These are the Red Wings, a team which played three tough games with Chicago that could have gone either way this past regular season. Detroit is a respected rival. The Red Wings still have a veteran presence of which the 'Hawks are more than aware.
Don't forget that Detroit was the team that eliminated the Ducks from the postseason. You know, that same Anaheim team that beat the Blackhawks three times in three meetings this past season.
Chicago isn't underestimating their opponent, and neither should 'Hawks fans. This is a capable club and Quenneville has to have his team ready to play their best hockey. For that reason, Chicago should be on high alert and ready to play Wednesday night.
5. It's Time to Claim a Series Win over Detroit
It's been more than 20 years since the 'Hawks bested Detroit in a playoff series. The Red Wings handed Chicago defeats in the conference finals in the 1994-95 and 2008-09 seasons.
From my standpoint, it always was just a little sad that the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup without avenging the previous year's defeat at the hands of a fierce rival. Seeing the Cup the next fall and the banner hoisted was a great antidote to my malaise, but still...
Now the 'Hawks have Detroit in the way of a second Stanley Cup in four years. Tell me Chicago fans wouldn't like to see their team send the Red Wings out of the conference with a decisive triumph.
I'll say it again. This isn't going to be a cakewalk. Each game is going to be an intense affair. However, my call is for Chicago to advance in six games.