Three Reasons Why the Blackhawks will beat the Coyotes
With the return of Jonathan Toews the Hawks have three legitimate lines that can come at the Phoenix Coyotes in waves. By doing so they can negate special teams play and win the series five-on-five. They'll need an up-tempo pace from the get-go, which shouldn't be hard since that's how the Hawks like to play. The Coyotes offense is probably better than most think but they ranked 18th in goals per game in the regular season, the Hawks were sixth. There's the big advantage for Chicago in the series.
It's always important but particularly in this series. The Coyotes are great with the lead but not so much coming from behind. Their win percentage was just .231 when getting scored upon first in the regular season, that ranked 27th in the league. The Hawks were only mid-pack when they scored the first goal, but against Phoenix it will have more meaning forcing the Coyotes to play a tempo they're not comfortable with. Trailing means eventually taking chances, that's not the Coyotes' style.
This shouldn't be a series where Crawford has to steal multiple games. Yes, he might have to match Mike Smith save-for-save at times but the Hawks' defense has been very good of late. And against a Phoenix team that has fewer offensive weapons then some in the West it shouldn't be hard for them to keep the shot totals down. In fact the Hawks haven't been outshot by an opponent since March 9. That's a span covering the final 13 games of the season, and remember, the lowest shot total earned by an opponent this season came against Phoenix. They managed just 16 in an October loss to the Hawks. It means Crawford just has to be good not necessarily outstanding. He can do that.
Three Reasons Why the Hawks Will Lose
If the trend holds the Hawks will look less than intense in one of the first few games of the series. No first-round match-up has lasted fewer than six games in each of the last three postseasons for Chicago. It's partly due to the Hawks sleepwalking through a game here or there. The players didn't like to hear that word all week but it's the truth and it nearly came back to bite them in 2010 when they went on to win the Stanley Cup. They didn't take Nashville serious enough early on in the series and found themselves in a dogfight late. And they did lose a year ago to Vancouver when it took a few games before finding the right intensity. Phoenix isn't an arch-rival, they're not a sexy opponent, they play a grinding game and it's hard to find much to dislike about them. That's a formula for a Hawks snooze-fest. This time there may not be a shorthanded goal with seconds remaining to save Chicago if they take a few games off.
It's pretty simple, if Smith continues his hot play in goal for Phoenix the Hawks could be in trouble. He's given up two goals in his last five games which included three consecutive shutouts. He's big, agile and confident. The Hawks aren't always known as a team that will crash the net but if they don't make things “miserable” -- as Marian Hossa put it this week -- Smith will have an easy time, that is, if he's still in the zone he was in to finish the regular season. Traffic in front of him is a must, and a lot of it. The Hawks will learn that sooner or later.
Phoenix may not have as many offensive weapons as the Hawks but there is enough there to cause damage if the Hawks let them. Especially if the Coyotes are allowed to score easy goals which will happen if players are standing uncovered in front of Corey Crawford. A simple shot from the point turns into a dangerous scoring chance when there is traffic. Hawks' defenders still haven't mastered creating a lane for their goalie to see the puck. They need to force the Coyotes to work for their scoring chances by giving them a nudge when they set up in the slot. They don't have to be preoccupied with them but when the puck goes back to the point a quick shove in the crease will help. The defense has been much better for Chicago but allowing traffic in front of their goaltender has been a year-long weakness.