The sprint is over. Let the Sprint Cup begin. The Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks will start the playoffs this week with much of what has transpired the last two springs on their minds, having gone out in the first round in consecutive seasons. The assumption here is that the Hawks will skate through the first round this time, after having their way with the Western Conference through 48 games, but getting out of the conference the next two rounds will depend on how they adjust from game to game and series to series. With that in mind, some things to look at as the playoffs get started. Physical play The Hawks really struggled with the beating they took from Vancouver (2011) and Phoenix (2012). It's no secret that teams in the West believe the formula for taking the Hawks out of their game is to pound their stars and punish their defense. The Coyotes softened up the Hawks' defense a year ago to the point where several players were hearing footsteps and consistently coughing up the puck. In the Vancouver game last week, the Hawks looked meek and disinterested, and very quiet when the Canucks threw their weight around. We'll give them the benefit of the doubt on that one, since they had no motivation to play and probably didn't feel like putting themselves in harm's way. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the Hawks respond when they face big, physical teams. Power play The best way to make teams pay when they take liberties with your stars is to score on the power play. Again this season the Hawks' power play was awful. They did score a pair of man-advantage goals in two straight games 10 days ago, so there is some recent life. The key is puck movement, north-south and east-west, and getting the penalty killers moving their feet to create confusion and shooting lanes, allowing the Hawks to get pucks to the net. It's as basic as it gets. If the Hawks can park someone in front of the net and stop searching for the perfect play, they have the skill to make teams pay. Goaltending Corey Crawford was really good against Vancouver last week, just as he was two years ago against the Canucks. That Crawford is plenty good enough to help the Hawks win a Cup. If that guy shows up, the Hawks are in great shape. If the Crawford who lets in soft goals appears, Joel Quenneville won't be afraid to give Ray Emery the net, assuming Emery returns to health.
Blackhawks due for long playoff run
Daily Herald | Apr 28