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The Stanley Cup Playoffs are set to begin on Wednesday and CHARGED.fm wants to prepare you for this exciting postseason. To get your ready, we contacted bloggers for the 16 playoff teams and asked them five questions to give us more insight about the teams they cover. Here is Greg Boysen of Second City Hockey talking about the Chicago Blackhawks and their playoff chances.
The Chicago Blackhawks are seeking to become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished it in 1998. They are also looking at a third Stanley Cup in five years, which is an impressive feat in the salary cap era. This season, the Blackhawks finished in third place in the Central Division with 46-21-15 record and 107 points. While the Blackhawks haven't been as dominant as they were last season, they are still the team to beat. With so much depth at forward and the blue line, it's going to be extremely tough for any team to beat them in a seven game series.
However, the road to repeat will be a much tougher one as they will likely not have home ice advantage at the United Center in the playoffs. In addition, they drew the hardest first round opponent possible in the St. Louis Blues, which should be a hell of a series. To evaluate the Blackhawks' chances at a repeat, I got in touch with Greg Boysen of Second City Hockey and this is what he had to say:
1) The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending champs. In what ways has this year’s team has improved from last postseason? And what concerns do you have that could prevent the Blackhawks from repeating?
For the most part the power play has been a big improvement over last season. It was at the top of the NHL for most of the season, but has struggled after the Olympic break. The return of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews should give the power play unit a shot in the arm. The penalty kill’s numbers are misleading. Their overall numbers have them in the middle of the pack but they have been one of the best penalty kill units since January 1st. It took the Blackhawks a little bit of time to find the right replacement(s) for the departed Michael Frolik, who was so important in this role last season.
Before the season started I said the biggest factor that will prevent a Blackhawks repeat would be health. Chicago fans have had their scare with both Kane and Toews going down during the final month of the regular season. The biggest key to both of the Hawks’ Cups in the last four years was their depth. They have had third and fourth lines that cause fits for opponents. But when those depth players have to move up and fill in spots in the top two lines, their effectiveness takes a dip.
2) Third liner Bryan Bickell really stepped up during the playoffs and played a key part to your championship run. Is there an under the radar player that could make that kind of impact this year?
American hero Ben Smith. Smitty has been such a nice story as he has been fighting for his spot on this roster ever since his overtime goal versus Vancouver in Game 6 of their 2011 playoff series. 2013-14 was going to be the year he gets his full time shot with the departures of players like Frolik and Dave Bolland. At the beginning of the year Smith had to prove himself to Joel Quenneville and was a healthy scratch early on. As the season went on Smith’s overall game improved. He took on a role on the penalty kill unit and excelled at it. Smith is the type of player who is not afraid to get to the dirty areas of the ice and take some punishment in order to score a big goal.
3) Young forward Jeremy Morin has done a nice job with 6 points in 9 games since getting the call-up in late March. Do you see him cracking into the line-up and if so, how much of an impact do you think he could make in the playoffs?
He better be in the lineup come Game 1 versus the Blues. He has earned his chance to play in the post season, but with Kane and Toews returning some fans are worried he will be watching from the press box. Jeremy Morin is a high energy player who has a good scoring touch and isn’t afraid of the physical play either. He is the type of player that can cause matchup nightmares during a seven game series.
4) The Blackhawks draw their hated rivals, the St. Louis Blues in the first round, which should be a bloodbath. How do you see this match-up playing out?
This series is going to be a throwback to the old Norris Division playoffs of the 1980’s. I fully expect this to be a hard hitting series with a lot of post whistle “conversations.” Health is going to be the biggest key to this series. The Blues have lost David Backes and TJ Oshie to injury over the last few games. Both are expected to be in the lineup for Game 1 but how healthy will they be? The same question can be asked about Kane and Toews. St. Louis has really struggled to score goals down the stretch and was shut out seven times after the Olympic break. Whichever team can find more secondary scoring will come out on top and that favors the Blackhawks. I predict the Blackhawks moving on the second round after a hard fought six game series.
5) What is your overall prediction for the Blackhawks this postseason?
I still think the Blackhawks are the team to beat in the Western Conference. Yes, they have had their ups and downs but they still finished with 107 points. This was a team that played their best at the biggest moments of the regular season and is playoff tested. Their experience and the depth will be tough to match up against. If they can keep up their excellent penalty killing and stay healthy I see no reason why we wouldn’t see a rematch with the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, which would be epic. I am just going to enjoy the ride of the best two months of the year. Nothing beats the Stanley Cup playoffs.
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