The Chicago Blackhawks will face off with the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. It is easy to overlook the ‘Yotes, as are most in Hawk nation, but,it is important to remember a couple of things. 1. Mike Smith has been sensational all year. He is a solid goaltender and has proven to the NHL that he is one of the NHL’s elite and don’t be surprised if he steals this series. 2. Head to Head Phoenix has had the Hawks number all season. The Hawks went 1-2-1 against Phoenix this season, and two of the games were not close.
The playoffs are a different animal, so when I look at the two teams I don’t take the regular season into account too much. The only reason I mentioned it, was to let Hawk nation understand that we did not luck out playing Phoenix. This is hardly an easy series. The Coyotes will come at the Hawks hard. They work from whistle to whistle and play a smothering style. Mike Smith is solid on the back end, and up front a skilled trio of Radim Vrbata, Ray Whitney and Shane Doan can prove to be dangerous. My X-factor for Phoenix is goaltender Mike Smith. Do I think the Coyotes can go goal for goal with the Hawks? Absolutely not. But, the big net minding Smith can make that a possible scenario.He has shut the door in three of the four against the Hawks this year and moves quickly for a big man. He has the ability to steal this series, as everybody knows, a hot goaltender will get you a long way at this time a year.
As for the Hawks, I will expect a lot of the same effort and style as the past month or two. Since the deadline it is fair to say the Hawks have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL if not the hottest. The Hawks match-up relatively well with Phoenix. With a healthy Jonathan Toews I think the Hawks have just as good a chance of coming out of the West as anyone. With Toews in the Line-up I have a hard time seeing Phx stay with the Hawks. THe question is, if Toews returns, does he remain split up with Patrick Kane? If I’m Joel Quennville I keep them separated. Think about the four Hawks lines if this is the case and the match-up problems opposing coaches will face. Toews-Sharp-Stalberg, Kane-Hossa-Kruger, Bolland-Bickell-SHaw, Mayers-Bollig-Brunette. There are not many teams that can go blow for blow with a line-up like that. For the Hawks my X-factor is Corey Crawford. If Crow repeats his 2011 playoff performance then we all should prepare for a long playoff run. This series does not have the build-up of a Hawks-Van series or Hawks-Det, but one could be created starting Thursday in Glendale.