These are my early impressions in advance of the Hawks-Coyotes playoff series in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
First of all, the Hawks know who their opponent is going to be in the 2012 postseason. It took to the final day a year ago to know if they would play on, this time it only took as long to know who they would play.
Many will break down the season series between the Hawks and Phoenix Coyotes and try to find a winner for the upcoming playoff series. That would be a big mistake. Throw out the season series in which the Hawks went 1-2-1 against the Coyotes. It has little meaning.
The Hawks’ lone win came in October when they dominated in one of their best games of the season. They gave up a season low 16 shots on net in winning 5-2. The score doesn’t indicate how poorly Phoenix looked against Chicago, but that was the exception to their season not the norm. Simply put Phoenix won’t look that bad in any playoff game.
The Hawks looked just as bad in a 4-1 loss to them on November 29. But that was the first game back at the United Center after the annual November circus trip. The Hawks flew all night from Los Angeles, had a day off, then took on the Coyotes and they had no legs. And no chance in the game. Throw it out.
A week later in Chicago, the Hawks looked bad again getting down 3-0 while Corey Crawford was pulled from the game. But in what turned out to be a theme for the Hawks all season, they woke up and stormed back to tie it 3-3 only to lose in a shootout. Again, that’s a hard game to judge from both sides considering the enormous momentum swings.
The series finale, won by Phoenix 3-0 in February, was another one the Hawks didn’t have a chance in. It came as Game No. 8 during what would become an NHL high nine game losing streak for Chicago. It also came a day after an emotional loss to San Jose, 5-3. The Hawks were so down after giving up three power play goals to the Sharks they had little chance to travel to Glendale and muster an effort in the sixth game of a nine game road trip. It was the low point of the long losing skid.
There is little doubt the Hawks will be facing a hot goaltender in Mike Smith, he’s given up a total of two goals in his last five starts including just one in the division clinching 4-1 win on Saturday night.
But assuming Jonathan Toews returns to the lineup for the series the Hawks simply have too much firepower and their defense has tightened up since the addition of Johnny Oduya. The Hawks should be able to dictate the pace more often than not and unless they get down early in multiple games they should fare well.
“They started extremely well in all the games,” Joel Quenneville said Saturday of Phoenix. “We had to play catch up which didn’t play in our favor and it kind of complements their game. We saw first-hand last night [Friday’s 4-1 win over St.Louis] how good they can be. They have balance on their team and an active defense.”
But even if the Hawks trail in games Dave Tippett is known as a coach that doesn’t like to push the pace once his team has a lead. The Hawks will have opportunities to come back just as they did in Game 3 of the season series. Plus, the Hawks may have as many fans show up in Glendale as the Coyotes do. That’s never a bad thing.
Early prediction: Hawks in 6 games.