Well they made it to the playoffs Blackhawks fans. Somewhat unconventionally, but they made it. Now they have to square off with their old playoff rival and President's trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks.
Unlike the previous two seasons, the Canucks are the undisputed favorites and the Blackhawks are the underdogs. Neither team is quite like it has been the past two seasons. The Canucks got better, while the Blackhawks got a bit worse.
Does that mean the Blackhawks can't beat the Canucks? Heck no. In fact this series is one of the most likely to result in a first round upset because of the enormous skill level of both teams and the intense rivalry between them.
But that doesn't mean the Blackhawks will have an easy road through the Canucks, a luxury they enjoyed the past two seasons. If they want to pull an upset, they will have to be a much better team than they were in the regular season.
Aside from the whole "score more goals and allow fewer" reasons, here's 10 things the Blackhawks need in order to beat the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks are the best home team in the NHL. They excel on home ice. The Blackhawks need to do as much as they can do limit this advantage for them
The Blackhawks have also excelled in Rogers Arena in the past. Actually excelled is an understatement. I would say the Blackhawks have dominated in Rogers Arena.
In last year's series the Blackhawks won all three games in Rogers Arena while outscoring them 17-7. It's safe to say that the Blackhawks aren't intimidated by Rogers Arena like most teams are.
Winning one of the first two games, preferably the first game, will do a number of things.
First, it will silence those fans and hockey experts calling for a sweep of the Blackhawks and show everyone that the Blackhawks are a competitive team that will make this a challenging series.
Second, it will give the Blackhawks extra confidence. Going back to Chicago with the series at 1-1 against the Presidents' trophy winners will help assure them that they can defeat them. Leaving Vancouver down 2-0 will surely demoralize them a bit.
Finally, I think the Canucks are a little bit too confident about playing the inferior 'Hawks and need to be taken down a notch. They've masked their confidence pretty well, but its still come across in some of the interviews and reports.
A loss on home ice would remind the Canucks that they're not playing a chump team and have to win four of seven games to go anywhere. This might add more pressure on them going forward.
The Madhouse on Madison is one of the most intimidating buildings to play in, whether its preseason, regular season, playoffs. It doesn't matter. Its an intimidating building.
The Blackhawks need to keep this building loud and intimidating. The Canucks have had mixed success there in the past. In last year's series they won games one and five there against the 'Hawks.
In the regular season the Blackhawks didn't have as much success in the United Center than they did last year. In this series the 'Hawks need to use the advantages that come with home ice against the Canucks and not let the Canucks use the Madhouse to gain momentum.
To beat the Canucks the 'Hawks will need to defend home ice and win at least one of two games here. If they come out of the first two games in Vancouver 1-1 and leave Chicago with the series at 2-2, they should have the momentum in the series.
The Canucks are a much more composed team this year than they were last year. However they are still capable of losing their composure, especially in games that aren't going their way.
In something as important as the playoffs, with the huge amount of pressure on them, I would expect the Canucks to be a bit more susceptible to losing their cool, especially to the Blackhawks.
The Canucks are 24th in the NHL in times shorthanded at 312. What does that tell you? Get them off their game a bit and they will take penalties.
One of the 'Hawks' strategies has to be: get under the Canucks skin and throw them off their game as much as possible. It probably won't be as effective as its been in the past, but if they can even disrupt Alex Burrows' game a little but, it may have carry-over affects on the Sedins.
The 'Hawks don't have the same agitators as they did last season, so they will have to find new ones. Guys like Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell and even young Ben Smith will have to learn to be a bit dirtier.
This seems like one of those obvious ones, but I cannot stress this enough. Since both teams have very potent offenses, defense and goaltending will be the keys in this series.
The Canucks have arguably the deepest defense in the playoffs but the Blackhawks boast a fast and talented defense of their own, led by two-way pairing Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith.
Now that the Blackhawks aren't scrambling to get in the playoffs, the defensemen don't have to try and generate as much offensively. The Canucks have one of the best transition games in the NHL and if the defenseman are caught out of position, they will pay for it.
Everyone needs to step up and play defensively to limit the Canucks' scoring chances. Campoli needs to stop playing below the hash-marks like a forward and Hjalmarsson needs to stop turning the puck over every other play.
Even the forwards need to play terrific defense if they want a chance to beat the Canucks. Backchecking will be key to disrupt their transition game.
Forechecking will also be key. Their defensemen lack size and can be worn down by a hard and physical forecheck.
Positioning in the defensive zone is critical. Their defensemen love to shoot the puck from the point so don't give them lots of space. The Blackhawks tend to defense down low. That won't work against the Canucks.
Overall, the Blackhawks have to be a significantly better team defensively than we saw for the majority of the season.
For the Blackhawks to win this series, Duncan Keith has to be phenomenal. He needs to remind everyone why he won the Norris trophy last year.
This year Keith hasn't been the elite two-way defenseman fans are used to. He's been good, but not great. He will need to be great to defeat the Canucks.
Keith will be relied on in so many different situations, whether its shutting down the Sedins, killing penalties, quarterbacking the powerplay, contributing offensively or using his speed and skill to navigate through the Canucks' forecheck.
His leadership on the bench and composure on the ice will be a very valuable asset as well.
The Canucks have a deep defense, but not a single defenseman with the skill, versatility and experience as Duncan Keith. He needs to blow the minds of even Canucks fans.
If he can be the "2010 playoffs Duncan Keith" in this year's playoffs, the Blackhawks will have a much better chance of defeating the Canucks.
Expect him to be logging at least 27-28 minutes a game going up against the Sedin line and playing on both special teams units.
Both teams have very powerful offenses, so scoring wont be the determinant in this series. It will mostly come down to goaltending.
Corey Crawford has proven that he has the talent, poise, patience and confidence to be an NHL starting goaltender. But the big question is: how effective will he be in the playoffs?
Crawford as all the traits of a championship goaltender: natural ability, great mentality and a proven capacity to handle a large workload. He needs to exhibit all of this to win this series.
For the 'Hawks to be victorious Crawford needs to catch fire and be one of the best goalies in the playoffs, much like Jaroslav Halak did last year against the Montreal Canadiens.
Crawford will have to shutdown not one, but two 40-goal scorers and a depth chart full of offensive skill.
Even if the defense plays the best hockey of their lives, the Canucks are still sure to get a handful of quality chances every game. Crawford needs to stop every one of them.
In order for the Blackhawks to have a chance, Crawford can't allow more than one or two goals per game. If the Canucks are scoring three, four and five goal a game, the Blackhawks offense won't be able to compete.
The Blackhawks have been notorious all season for their atrocious inconsistency. Poor starts, bad shifts, worse periods and terrible endings have all cost the Blackhawks a lot of points in the standings in the regular season.
But this isn't the regular season. This is the playoffs. All those lost points don't matter anymore. All that matters is what they do from here on out.
Now that the 'Hawks are in the playoffs, they can put their old demons out of their minds and focus on playing playoff hockey, something they excel at.
This will need to happen if they have any hopes of beating the Canucks. They can't take a shift off or have a bad period. They need to give a full 60-minute effort, maintain intensity and not shy away from the game plan.
They can't get distracted if they surrender a goal or two. They need to refocus and chip away at leads.
Despite the loss to the Red Wings on Sunday, the Blackhawks showed a great amount of resilience and character. They will need the same kind of mentality against the Canucks.
To beat the Canucks, the Blackhawks need the right people on the ice at the right time. This is where the Blackhawks have an advantage, because Joel Quenneville specializes in establishing matchups.
Hopefully Dave Bolland will return at some point in the series and if he does he could be the key to winning for the Blackhawks. His defensive, agitating style has been extremely effective against them.
The Blackhawks will also need to exploit the lack of two-way skill in their bottom six. The Canucks will be without Malholtra for the series and Torres for the first two games. The Blackhawks will need to find a way to take advantage of a this.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook need to be out against the Sedins and the 'Hawks need one or two strong scoring threats to generate depth scoring.
Roberto Luongo has had a terrific season, the best of his career. He's stated that he's more confident than ever entering the playoffs and is up to the challenge of facing the Blackhawks.
The 'Hawks need to make him regret making this statement.
No one on the Canucks has been more psychologically distressed by the 'Hawks than Roberto Luongo. He completely fell apart both in the 2009 series and last year. If he collapses this year it will have devastating effects on the entire team.
Unfortunately the Blackhawks no longer have "Big Buff" to stick his butt in Luongo's face this year. Everyone thinks that for this reason alone that Luongo can conquer the Blackhawks.
But most people forget that another thorn in Luongo's side has been young Patrick Kane, who scored a hat trick against Luongo in game six of the '09 series and struck a crushing blow in game six of last year's series with a goal that embarrassed Luongo.
Another player that Luongo has struggled against is Patrick Sharp, whose shorthanded goal in game two last year was the turning point in the series.
In order for the Blackhawks to beat the Canucks they have to beat Roberto Luongo and it has to be done collectively. Consistently rash the net and put two or three behind him and he will fall apart.
As I said, if Luongo falls apart it will have repercussions on the entire team and will demoralize them and impede their ability to perform.
A lot of fans are dismissing the psychological advantage that the Blackhawks have going into the series. But the fact is: until the Canucks beat the Blackhawks, they haven't beaten them.
The Blackhawks need to use every weapon at their disposal to remind the Canucks that they are the defending Stanley Cup champions and that they have eliminated the Canucks the past two seasons.
The Blackhawks need to use their underdog role to surprise everyone on the Canucks roster and make them rethink their approach to the series.
If the Canucks spend most of their time in their heads wondering about how to beat this inferior opponent instead of playing hockey, it will give the Blackhawks a much needed edge.