3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 6 Chicago Blackhawks
These are exciting times for the Phoenix Coyotes, even if they are being rumored to play next year in any of six different locations. The Desert Dogs earned their first division title in… ever. Even going back to their days as the Winnipeg Jets, this franchise has never won a division. Wow. I had to look it up to be sure it was true. Can they now also win their first playoff series in Phoenix?
Imagine how great the Blackhawks could have been had Dale Tallon not missed that one teeny-tiny deadline? Instead, they have to settle for backdooring into a playoff spot and hoping their stars can catch fire.
For a team without a lot of flash, the Phoenix Coyotes still manage a respectable offense. Their 216 goals were middle of the pack (17th). Ray Whitney and Shane Doan refuse to age and Radim Vrbata scored career highs with 35G and 62P. Beyond those three, however, the scoring is pretty thin with Lauri Korpikoski‘s 17 goals being the closest thing to a threat.
Despite a loss of depth from their championship run two seasons ago, the Blackhawks remain one of the more offensively talented teams in the league. Five different players scored 20 or more goals for the Hawks this year, and Dave Bolland came close with 19. Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane will need to up their game if captain Jonathan Toews remains out with a concussion that has plagued him since late February. He is day-to-day.
The key to the Coyotes defense is young talent mixed with veteran leadership. Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are a pair of young, puck moving defensemen with offensive flair (24 goals between them) and they are supported by a bottom four that includes Michal Rozsival, Rostislav Klesla, Derek Morris and Adrian Aucoin. Those four have a combined 49 seasons of experience
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have struggled to find consistency on their blueline all season. Beyond Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, the talent and experience drops significantly. The fact that Johnny Oduya was brought in to add stability at the trade deadline says a lot.
Has anyone told Steve Yzerman that Mike Smith used to play for the Lightning? The guy has played some amazing hockey of late. He closed out the season giving up two goals in his last five starts. The question is can he do it in the playoffs against a high scoring threat like Chicago?
The Chicago Blackhawks have all the makings of a great team but with at least a half dozen achilles heels. Their main problem is inconsistency in goal. Neither Corey Crawford or Ray Emery could secure a hold on the top job. This position could be their undoing against an opportunistic Coyotes team. Then again, Corey Crawford has shown the ability to step up his game in the playoffs. Will he do so this time around?
Last years Chicago team was motivated by an intense hatred for their first round opponents and it was almost enough to lull them out of their sleepy existence. There is no hate for Phoenix so I don’t see that motivation reoccurring. With or without Toews, this is a team that finished 26th on the power-play and they are going up against one of the better penatly-killing teams in the league. Defense tends to win in the playoffs and Chicago just doesn’t match well against the Yotes.
Phoenix: Ray Whitney
Phoenix has the defense and goaltending to shut their opponents down. They need someone to score the goals.
Chicago: Jonathan Toews
Has the ability to carry a team on his back. But only if he plays.
Coyotes in six