With the Chicago Blackhawks 5-3 victory over Nashville last night, one NHL 2nd round match is set as the Blackhawks will take on the 3rd seeded Canucks. Both teams are division winners with experience, and this figures to be a hard fought series. The teams each one two head to head games in the regular season, and the competiveness figures to carry over in to the 2nd round, with a chance at the Conference Finals on the line. Here is my breakdown of the series. The two teams met last season in the same round, with Chicago advancing in 6 games.
Chicago’s Antti Niemi had an up and down series against Nashville, posting 2 shutouts but also allowing a pair of 4 goal games. Roberto Luongo, the Vancouver goaltender who helped Canada earn a gold medal, is a much more seasoned goaltender. He struggled early in the series but has really settled down, particularly against the power play. After allowing LA to score on 9 of the first 14 power plays of their series, Luongo settled in and was tough to score on. Luongo has played in 22 playoff games prior to this series, about half the total number of games Niemi has played in his entire career. Luongo has played over 600 games total. Niemi wasn’t starting for Chicago’s win last year, and I have to give the edge to Roberto Luongo here.
Both teams are young and fast. Chicago has been a strong first period team, including scoring 4 times in the series clincher against Nashville. But Chicago hasn’t been very strong on the power play, going only 4 for 23 against Nashville. They’ll need to do better than that. The Blackhawks are lead offensively by Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa, who each have at least 7 points. Hossa has played in two straight Stanley Cup Finals. The Canucks are lead by the Sedin twins and Mikael Samuelsson, who have scored in flurries. Samuelsson leads the postseason with 7 goals, as well as 4 assists. The Canucks are explosive, and have 4.17 goals per game these playoffs, compared to 2.83 for Chicago. They also have a slight power play edge (6 for 24) and are much better at even strength. Edge to Vancouver
Vancouver struggled mightily against the power play, giving up 10 of 26 for a playoff low 38.5%. They settled down though in the later games, allowing only 1 goal in the last 12 power plays. Chicago’s power play was far superior, allowing Nashville only 1 goal in 27 attempts, a measly 3.7%. They also had a huge stop in the pivotal game 5, when they held Nashville at the end of regulation and overtime on a 5 minute minor, including scoring a shorthand goal and holding off a 5 on 3 disadvantage. Chicago had a better penalty killing percentage in the regular season as well. Chicago had the edge in Goals Against Per Game as well these playoffs, 2.5 to 3. I give the edge to Chicago on defense
The Blackhawks have home ice advantage, but that hasn’t always been a great thing in playoff hockey. Though they won last year, it’s a new season. The experience of Luongo I think wins out, and sends Blackhawks home unhappy. Vancouver in six games.