Chicago-Calgary Series Preview
It has been a long time coming but the Chicago Blackhawks have reached the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-2002 season. This time however the 'Hawks enter the playoffs with a very young team that has quite a challenge laid in front of them.
The Blackhawks have drawn the Calgary Flames as their first round matchup in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. At the start of the season many television analysts thought that the 'Hawks were going to be a playoff team but not a team that would have home ice advantage in the first round.
Well the Blackhawks have exceeded expectations in many peoples eyes but they have a team that can make some damage in the playoffs and they have drawn a favorable first round matchup in the Calgary Flames.
The Flames have been bitten by the injury bug late in the season and have not been able to field a competitive team in a few weeks. The Flames will likely have a few players back but even when the Flames were at full strength against the Blackhawks they struggled to win games.
The 'Hawks had the Flames number during the regular season, winning all four games against Calgary in convincing fashion. Even though the 'Hawks owned the Flames during the regular season this is the playoffs and the 'Hawks post season inexperience could cause them trouble against a veteran team in the Flames.
The Blackhawks have several players that they will need to rely on as they enter their first playoff season in seven years gets under way.
Players To Watch
The young captain for the Blackhawks finished the season strong and ended up leading the team in goals but the playoffs are a completely different monster. Toews will be the person that the players look to for leadership and it is uncertain if a 20 year old is up to it.
But from what the regular season has shown he will be the player that will lead by example every shift. If he plays hard every shift and gives the 'Hawks extra chances in the offensive zone then he will be a major factor in the playoffs.
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season Niklas Hjalmarsson would be a second pairing defensemen for the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs? Well not many but Hjalmarsson has solidified the Blackhawks' blue line and given Brain Campbell a good defensive minded partner.
Yes he is young but he has captured Coach Quenneville's confidence and he will get top minutes in the playoffs. Even if Brent Sopel is healthy enough to make a return to the 'Hawks lineup it is unlikely that he will be able to knock Hjalmarsson out the line up.
Coming into this series Patrick Sharp is a big question mark for the Blackhawks as he has not played a game since April 3rd when he sustained a lower body injury. Sharp had just returned to the Blackhawks lineup on March 22nd from a sprained knee and had been hot when he returned now his playoff availability is in question.
Coach Joel Quenneville has said that Sharp will be able to return to the 'Hawks lineup for their first game against the Flames but will he be effective in his return to the lineup?
Players To Watch Continued...
Brent Seabrook/Duncan Keith Pairing
The Keith/Seabrook pairing will be playing against the likes of Jarome Iginla, Olli Jokinen and Todd Bertuzzi. These two have been the shut down pairing for the Blackhawks all season and that will not change against the Flames.
If Keith and Seabrook can play like they have all season against the Flames then they give the Blackhawks the best chance of winning their first playoff series in a long time.
The biggest player and key to the Blackhawks in their goaltending as Nikolai Khabibulin will suit up for every game against the Flames. Khabibulin finished the season on fire and might be the hottest goaltender in the NHL going into the playoffs. Khabibulin has enjoyed a successful career against the Flames with a record of 22-5-2 with a 2.06 goals allowed average and a save percentage of 93.1.
Even though you need to have a good offensive team in the playoffs you also need to have tremendous goaltending and Nikolai Khabibulin, if past experience proves true, can provide that for the Blackhawks
Michael Wagner's Projected Chicago Blackhawks Lineup