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No. 4 Blackhawks Vs. No. 5 Flames: Breaking Down The First Round Matchup

Keith SheltonAnalyst IApril 14, 2009

CALGARY, CANADA - FEBRUARY 5: Matthew Lombardi #18 of the Calgary Flames skates against the Chicago Blackhawks on February 5, 2009 at Pengrowth Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)

In what could be the most exciting matchup of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks will take on the Calgary Flames.

Chicago is returning to the playoffs after a lengthy six year absence. The Blackhawks narrowly missed the playoffs last season by three points. This season they finished with 104 points, good enough for second place in the Central Division. This years finish earned the Blackhawks a four seed this year, their best regular season finish in 17 years.

Calgary has been a regular playoff participant for some time now and finished second in the Northwest Division with 98 points. This might be their best team since 2003-04 when the Flames made a Stanley Cup Finals run.

Forwards:

Chicago has some of the best young talent the NHL has to offer and it all starts with Patrick Kane, the NHL's first overall draft pick in 2007. Kane came in second on the team with 70 points, gaining half of his production on the power-play.

Martin Havlat had a resurgent season, after being devastated by injuries in his recent career. Havlat was healthy this season and led the team with 77 points, giving him a fantastic plus-29 rating. When healthy,ex Havlat can be one of the best two way forwards in the game.

The Blackhawks young captain, Jonathan Toews led the team in goals with 34, rounding out a confident first line of skilled youth.

Rookie Kris Versteeg is a solid Calder Trophy candidate and continues a recent tradition of excellent Blackhawks drafting. He totaled 53 points this year.

Patrick Sharp missed some time due to injury earlier in the season, but still notched 26 goals to round out Chicago's five 20 plus goal scorers. At the top of his game, Sharp's shooting can be invaluable. 

Dave Bolland rounds out the top-six forwards on this Blackhawks team. In his first full season in Chicago he has shown improvement, shown by the speedy young center's 47 points.

Dustin Byfuglien moved to forward this season. A defenseman for the Blackhawks last season, Byfuglien is developing into quite the power forward. At 6'3'' and 245 pounds, he is the biggest forward on the team but can be counted on to score at times too.

Another good addition was excellent two-way player Samuel Pahlsson, who joined the team at the trade deadline.

Calgary is led by longtime Flame and captain, Jarome Iginla. One of the best power forwards in the NHL, Iginla had another excellent season. He compiled a team-leading 89 points and came second in goals, with 35 goals.

Opposite Iginla is offseason pickup Michael Cammalleri. After a shaky and injury riddled 2007-08 season, Cammalleri has rebounded to post 39 goals. His goals lead the team and helps give the Flames a legitimate second scoring option.

Olli Jokinen was the big trade deadline acquisition for this team and came in on a tear, but has come back down to earth as of late. He totaled 15 points in 19 games for the Flames to give him 57 for the season.

There are three additional 20 goal scorers on this veteran Flames squad; Daymond Langkow, David Moss, who has enjoyed somewhat of a breakout campaign, and big-man Rene Bourque, son of boxer Wayne Bourque. Although Bourque is currently on injured reserve due to an ankle injury suffered in February.

Todd Bertuzzi, missed 15 games this season due to injury and hasn't at all been effective since coming back after starting off hot this season.

Craig Conroy rounds out the top six and at age 37, has posted his best season in four years with 48 points and leads all Flames forwards with a plus 20 rating.

Young Curtis Glencross has enjoyed the best season of his early career with a respectable 40 points.

Edge: Chicago

If this were judged on offensive skill alone it would be a draw, but Chicago's young forwards have been schooled in the ways of defensive responsibility as well as offense. For that reason Chicago slightly edges out Calgary.

Defense:

Chicago won the Brian Campbell sweepstakes last offseason and it has paid off very well for them. Campbell filled a much needed veteran presence on the Blackhawks defense and posted a career-high 52 points as well.

Duncan Keith is another Blackhawks draft pick, and has improved every year he's been in the league. He also posted a career-high 44 points and leads the team in +/- with 33.

Big Cam Barker and Brent Seabrook, two more Chicago draft-picks, add size and physicality to the Chicago blueline, although Seabrook is the more talented of the two.

Calgary's top pairing is as good as nearly any in the NHL and features young phenom Dion Phaneuf, who is a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Veteran Adrian Aucoin also brings skill and expertise to the defense while playing a sound game.

Instigator Cory Sarich and Mark Gioradano fill in the Flames blueline and generally play mistake free games.

There are some concerns, being that Phaneuf, Sarich, Gioradano and big man Robyn Regehr all have day-to-day injuries. Hopefully some, if not all of the four ,will be ready for the start of the playoffs.

If not, then rookie, Adam Pardy and depth-man Jim Vandermeer will have to step up to help carry this Flames defense.

Edge: Even

Both are very well built and well balanced defenses, if both are healthy. Obviously a healthy Chicago has an advantage over an injured Calgary. We'll see what happens.

Goaltending:

Chicago will be backstopped by long-time veteran Nikolai Khabibulin. The "Bulin Wall" was outstanding down the stretch, registering two shutouts in the last week. The 36-year old Stanley Cup winning netminder will get the nod over off-season pickup Christobel Huet and deservedly so.

Khabibulin finished third in the NHL with a 2.33 goals against average and a record of 25-8-7 with three shutouts.

Calgary has the impressive Miikka Kiprusoff. Although Kipper has steadily declined since his 2006 Vezina winning season, don't be fooled by his 2.84 goals against average. Kiprusoff has the ability to dominate a playoff series when he's at the top of his game and can never be underestimated.

Edge: Calgary

Both goalies know what playoff hockey is all about. One is a Stanley Cup winner, one is a Vezina winner, both have plenty of experience. However, only Kiprusoff has the ability to take over a series, and so Calgary earns the slight edge.

Intangibles:

Chicago has a rabid home fanbase and is back in the playoffs for the first time in six years

Calgary led the Northwest Division for much of the season, but lost it in the seasons final days to Vancouver.

Edge: Chicago

Coaching:

Chicago's Joel Quenneville has been around the game for a long time. The Blackhawks are his third team, and in 12 seasons coaching, he has made the playoffs every year but one. He became the coach of Chicago only a week into the season, replacing the fired Denis Savard, and its proven to be a good decision.

Even though Quenneville has never played in a Stanley Cup Finals, his teams often bow out early, he is an excellent builder of talent and has certainly helped this young Blackhawks team to get back to the postseason.

Calgary has one of the best minds in the game with Mike Keenan. This is Keenan's second season in Calgary and the Flames are the eighth team he has coached. In the past Keenan enjoyed plenty of success with the New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and yes, the Chicago Blackhawks. He took the Flames to the playoffs last season and bowed out in the first round. He has one Stanley Cup to his credit and a few Stanley Cup Finals appearances as well.

Edge: Calgary

Iron Mike Keenan is one of the stalwarts of coaching in the NHL and there's really only a small handful of coaches that can match his ability

Prediction:

This should be an exciting matchup. Both teams have some highly skilled forwards and the battle in goal is also a good one. There's potential for a seven game series here, but in the end, Calgary's leadership and experience should win out over Chicago's youth as long as they're healthy. The Blackhawks time is coming though.

Calgary in seven

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