Sunday, April 10, 2011
It's time to renew your yearly membership of Canuck hatred. With Minnesota's win against Dallas, the Hawks have fallen ass-backwards into the playoffs and are set to face-off against the Vancouver Canucks. The two teams have faced each other in the Western Conference Semi-Final the previous two years. This year, the rivals will square off earlier than before. However, this is not the only difference in the latest chapter between these two teams.
One of the most significant differences is the players that the Blackhawks have lost since last season. Who can argue that the lack of Dustin Byfuglien will not be obvious in this series? Buff's greatest contribution in these series was his presence in front of the net. Byfuglien effectively blindfolded Luongo by constantly blocking his view of the puck and the play in front of him. No doubt, Big Buff was in Luongo's head and took him completely out of the game. Once the Hawks were in his head, Luongo stood no chance, giving up three playoff hat tricks to the Hawks (Kane, Byfuglien, and Toews). Without Byfuglien, how will the Hawks solve Luongo?
Tomas Kopecky is not normally a pivotal character for the Blackhawks. However, I expect to see the Blackhawks try to plug Kopecky in as the Byfuglien replacement in front of the net. Kopy has that tough grittiness that is needed to play that role. This isn't Kopy's first rodeo, either. The Hawks have stuck him in front of the net on several occasions this year. The question will be whether Kopecky can honestly fill Buff's shoes.
The Canucks also have differences in their roster. However, this is likely to be to their benefit. Vancouver made moves in the offseason to add much-needed help on the blueline. Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard replaced Willie Mitchell and Shane O'Brien. And rather than losing grit, Vancouver gained it by adding Raffi Torres (No, that's not the guy who makes the children's music) Jeff Tambellini, and Manny Malhotra. Unfortunately, the Canucks lost Malhotra to an eye injury that has the potential to end his career. Regardless, the Canucks should be tougher defensively this year than they have been the last two years.
The Canucks haven't lost their offense in the process, though. They managed to maintain the players that got them to the playoffs the previous two years (Ryan Kesler, the Sedin twins, Mikael Samuelsson, Mason Raymond). One would expect these Canucks to only be better as they have two years of playoff experience under their belt.
The Blackhawks have maintained their core (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook), however, the loss of strong role players with playoff experience may cost the Hawks as they head into the playoffs. Players such as Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Nick Leddy, Jake Dowell, Michael Frolik, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, and most-importantly, Corey Crawford have little or no playoff experience.
With all of this in mind, I think it's important to note that the Hawks have done well in General Motors Place/Rogers Arena in the past. With the Canucks sitting in the #1 seed, there will be more games played there than at the United Center. Here's to hoping the Hawks can find a way to repeat history although the conditions are vastly different.