There was a time in Chicago when the fourth seed in the Western Conference wasn't good enough.
Bill Wirtz put that fire out.
But now a new era is upon us. With the youngest roster in the NHL and a repertoire of weapons on every line, some of whom couldn't legally drink to celebrate the first playoff birth in seven long Chicago years, there's smoke.
Rocky Wirtz poured gasoline on a spark.
On Thursday night, one of the richest traditions in professional sports will be renewed when the Chicago Blackhawks host the first game of a playoff series. If you hadn't heard, the Blackhawks are back.
For those that aren't familiar with how Blackhawks games start, I encourage you to enjoy the 1991 All-Star Game at the old Chicago Stadium.
Now, on to this year's first round—the Chicago Blackhawks vs. the Calgary Flames.
Chicago: Nikolai Khabibulin
Khabibulin ended the regular season ranked an astounding fourth in the NHL in goals against (2.33), tied with Niklas Backstrom and in front of Roberto Luongo, Pekka Rinne, Chris Mason and Martin Brodeur.
Considering the Blackhawks spent most of the preseason trying to sell his contract to a Russian team, lady luck was certainly generous to the Hawks this year.
Khabibulin also tied for sixth in the NHL in save percentage (.919). Because of injury (and Cristobal Huet making a lot of money to be just a backup), he played in just 45 games. He ended hist regular season by stopping all 37 shots he faced against Detroit on Sunday.
Calgary: Mikka Kiprusoff
Kiprusoff started 76 games for the Flames and allowed 2.84 goals per game, good for just 32nd in the NHL this season. His save percentage of .903 also ranked 32nd in the league this season.
Chicago: Joel Quenneville
Quenneville has made it out of the first round in each of this last two playoff appearances, both last year and in 2005-06.
Calgary: Mike Keenan
Keenan was once the head coach of the Blackhawks—and the last time he made it past the first round was with the Hawks in 1993-94.
- Martin Havlat: 77 points (29 goals, 48 assists), plus-29
- Patrick Kane: 70 points (25 goals, 45 assists), minus-two
- Jonathan Toews: 69 points (34 goals, 35 assists), plus-12
- Kris Versteeg (53) and Brian Campbell (52) have scored more than 50 points as well.
- Jerome Iginla: 89 points (35 goals, 54 assists), minus-two.
- Michael Cammalleri: 82 points (39 goals, 43 assists), minus-two.
- The Flames did not have a third player eclipse 50 points.
If it isn't the scoring distribution for the Hawks, with five players scoring over 50 points this season, then just looking at the plus/minus of the Hawks top three against Calgary's top two should seal the deal for you.
At the trade deadline...
- the Blackhawks lost Craig Adams to waivers, and traded defensiveman James Wisniewski to Anaheim for center Samuel Pahlsson.
- the Flames acquired center Olli Jokinen from Phoenix for center Matthew Lombardi, wing Brandon Prust and a first-round draft pick.
- Sunday, November 9 @ Chicago: Blackhawks win 6-1
- Friday, December 19 @ Calgary: Blackhawks win 3-2 (OT)
- Sunday, January 4 @ Chicago: Blackhawks win 5-2
- Thursday, February 5 @ Calgary: Blackhawks win 5-2
- Total: Chicago sweeps 4-0 (19-7 combined score)
Edge: Overwhelmingly Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are younger and significantly less experienced in the playoffs. However, their distribution of scoring and superior goaltending should overcome the sliding, older Flames.
Quenneville has a better track record than Keenan in the more recent past as well, and Chicago is coming into the post season after sweeping a home-and-home against Detroit, while Calgary was outscored 15-8 in their last five games (2-3 record).
Prediction: Blackhawks in five.