Chicago, IL — As the weather is spring like in February in Chicago it reminds us all of what is undoubtedly our favorite time of year and what’s ahead – the sprint to the NHL playoffs.
The Chicago Blackhawks are pretty much secured barring a major meltdown they will be seeing a second season come April which again is a testament to this organization and coaching and players.
The Hawks were playing some really good hockey before heading into their bye week. They were playing 60 minutes and solid positional defense and racking up 4 + goals a game with the San Jose exception.
Play like that and you win which they did 5 out of 6 times including one against the Wild.
Coming out of the bye there was a a blip where they ran into a hot goalie and maybe their decisions of shot selection and over passing may have been due to a little rust but other than that they have come out of the bye looking good. The big test will be on Tuesday in Minnesota.
Their goal we all know what that is for the post season but for the regular season it will be trying to catch the Minnesota Wild for division lead and working on some things in their own game.
Currently the Hawks sit 7 points back with Minnesota having a game in hand but the Hawks may hold their own destiny and that of the Wilds in their hands with two games left against them. Win both those games in regulation and you’ve cut the points down to 3 and who knows what can happen.
Will it be a disaster if the Hawks finish second no, but it would mean starting the playoffs probably against a team outside the Central if they win the division.
At the moment it would be Calgary but it could be a number of teams like the Kings, Canucks & possibly the Jets.
Staying second the Hawks probably will have revisit of last years first round against the Blues. So pick your poison and is it realistic to think the Hawks can even catch the Wild?
The answer Yes for several reasons.
The Wild have yet to have their bye and if they suffer the same fate as other teams coming out of the bye there is almost a loss or two certain to happen.
Now there are no guarantees but the Wild also come out of their bye with a back to back against the LA Kings and the Winnipeg Jets.
While the Wild have split against the Kings and seem to have the Jets number you have to remember both the Kings and Jets are now fighting to even make the playoffs so their battle levels should be at playoff levels. This will be interesting to see how this first back to back after the bye pans out.
The Wild have 24 games left with 10 of those against playoff bound teams.
They will face Chicago, San Jose & Washington twice each that’s a tall order to win all those games. They will also face Columbus, St. Louis, Ottawa and the Rangers once from now til the end of the year.
The Hawks also play 10 playoff bound teams Minnesota, Pittsburgh & Anaheim twice each with Montreal, Ottawa, St. Louis & Columbus once.
So we see the biggest impact is that the Hawks face the Wild twice so their destiny is within their control.
You also have to think that both teams will be very prepared for these games and yes it is even one is in Chicago and the other in MN
Additionally, if both teams split these series against good opponents then the difference could be in how Chicago plays the Wild.
If they split this series they probably will not catch the Wild they need to win both games in regulation to have a shot at the division.
The other advantage the Hawks could have is that the Wild have five remaining back to backs whereas Chicago only has three. That is big when you talk compressed schedules.
The only road back to back the Wild have though is versus Florida teams. The others are as I said earlier coming out of the bye which could be key LA/Jets and then they have Rangers/Jets, Vancouver/Detroit & Nashville/Colorado with one game at home and the other on the road.
This is where conditioning, experience and focus come into play so this will be interesting to see heading down the stretch how they do.
Honestly the home/road games left for each team isn’t really a factor as both teams play evenly on the road as they do at home which actually bodes well for both in the playoffs.
So how are the Hawks going to beat the Wild twice when the current record against them is 1-1 with the win coming in OT thanks to some questionable goal call.
That is in the past now going forward what do we know about the Wild.
Well then they have balanced scoring through out their line-up more so than even the Hawks.
This makes them a threat regardless of who is on the ice to score and tough to defend but not impossible if positioning is done right and the offensive players think sound defense first.
The Wild are also hard to score on as they all collapse down in front of their goalie and make getting through the neutral zone very hard.
This means the Hawks may have to chip and retrieve which is not their strong suit. If they can get on the forecheck and get pucks back and keep the Wild pinned in their own end they are bound to make a mistake.
Getting shots through to the goalie is not easy so it will take a full team effort and taking shots from everywhere and especially if there is a shot inside the dots or high slot take the shot don’t pass.
I love Ryan Suter but he is getting older and slower attack him in numbers or speed and like any Dman he will make a mistake. Same can be said of Dumba, Spurgeon or any D men but know they will be trying to do this to your Dmen as well forwards so get back and help.
The Wild give up a lot of shots against but their goal differential is impressive meaning that their shots are from short ranges as they crash the net somehow you have to box out or block shots with bodies or sticks.
The Wild are very similar to the Hawks they are not a physical team but they will beat you with their speed, solid defense and goaltending.
The Wild next year will face the same cap problems the Blackhawks have in the past, so you have to think they are truly going all in this year with everything they have.
Given too their new coach’s playoff record well I don’t need to tell you his motivations.
At this point it is unknown who the Hawks or the Wild will be getting at the trade deadline.
Personally I would be ecstatic if the Hawks were to pick up Johnny Oduya again.
That in my opinion would really cement the defense for the playoffs. He is familiar with the Hawks system and worked well with Hjalmarsson before. You can never have enough D.
I’d like to see the Hawks shore up both sides of their special teams and work on forechecking, backchecking and shot selections just tie these areas up and keep playing 60 minutes.
I now understand Coach Q’s “play with a purpose” statement. Every time you are on the ice have a plan and execute it as best as you can.
The Wild are too good to just be skating around without a purpose and let them roam free. Tie them up and make their skating shifts miserable for them.
So to hunt the Wild be mindful defensively at all times, be direct in offense take shots any where and every where and try and get to the net or put shots in places where rebounds can be gotten by team mates.
The last couple time they played the Hawks they were all over Patrick Kane so other lines may need to take the charge which goes with Coach Q’s rolling of 4 lines.
Do those things and believe me no one will want to face the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs.