Blackhawks vs. Red Wings Western Conference Final preview

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Second City Hockey vs. Winging It In Motown

The Storyline

Two Original Six teams add a new chapter to their storied rivalry as the Red Wings, after fighting off Anaheim in a classic, heavyweight seven-game series, host up-and-coming Chicago.  The Blackhawks, whose young stars have written the "feel good" story in the Western Conference this season, beat the Flames and Canucks in six games each to reach their first conference final since 1995, when Detroit took a five-game victory.

The Numbers

  Chicago Detroit
  Record 46-24-12 6th 51-21-10 3rd
  Pts % .634 6th .683 3rd
  Goals For/Game 3.17 4th 3.52 1st
  Goals Against/Game 2.55 5th 2.93 19th
  5-on-5 GF/GA 1.18 5th 1.20 4th
  PP% 19.3 11th 25.5 1st
  PK% 80.6 17th 78.3 25th
  Shots/Game 32.7 5th 36.2 1st
  Shots Against/Game 28.6 8th 27.7 2nd
  FO % 48.1 22nd 55.1 1st

This series could turn into a showcase for the "New NHL", with two high-flying offenses leading the way. Will Detroit's dominance in the faceoff circle perhaps give them an edge?

Interestingly here, the overall Goals For/Against ratio (which is perhaps the single best measure of a team's quality) tilts slightly in favor of the Blackhawks. GF/GA for Chicago is 1.24, while for Detroit it stands at 1.20. As good as the Red Wings were this year, the Blackhawks may well be able to stand toe-to-toe with them.

Goaltending

Chicago


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Cristobal Huet 41 2351 20 15 4 5 99 2.53 1087 988 .909 3
2008 - Nikolai Khabibulin 42 2467 25 8 7 1 96 2.33 1192 1096 .919 3

Detroit


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Ty Conklin 40 2246 25 11 2 4 94 2.51 1033 939 .909 6
2008 - Chris Osgood 46 2663 26 9 8 0 137 3.09 1208 1071 .887 2

Chris Osgood has shaken off the critics with an impressive .921 save percentage during the postseason, while Khabibulin hasn't needed to be nearly as good (.896). A few weeks ago one would have given the clear goaltending edge to Chicago, but the gap would seem to have narrowed. For each goaltender, this round features the toughest opposition to date.

Penalties

No OtF preview would be complete without a look at Penalty Plus/Minus, to see which players will head to, or send other players to, the box:

 Chicago Penalties Drawn   Detroit Penalties Drawn
  Player  Draws  Fouls  Pen +/-   Player  Draws  Fouls  Pen +/-
 Ben Eager 33 45 -12   Henrik Zetterberg 38 18 +20
 Patrick Kane 32 19 +13   Pavel Datsyuk 30 10 +20
 Dustin Byfuglien 31 29 +2   Marian Hossa 30 25 +5
 Jonathan Toews 29 23 +6   Valtteri Filppula 29 20 +9
 Dave Bolland 28 21 +7   Mikael Samuelsson 26 25 +1
 Kris Versteeg 27 14 +13   Kirk Maltby 23 14 +9
  Penalties Taken   Penalties Taken
 Ben Eager 33 45 -12   Niklas Kronwall 10 26 -16
 Dustin Byfuglien 31 29 +2   Marian Hossa 30 25 +5
 Brent Seabrook 16 28 -12   Mikael Samuelsson 26 25 +1
 Matt Walker 16 26 -10   Dan Cleary 22 23 -1
 Duncan Keith 8 26 -18   Tomas Kopecky 21 23 -2
 Adam Burish 25 24 +1   Brett Lebda 5 23 -18

The Blackhawks enjoyed the 3rd-most power play opportunities (363) in the NHL this season (Detroit was 12th with 353), and those advantages proved crucial in their victories over Calgary and Vancouver in the first two rounds. Both contestants do a decent job staying out of the box as well (Detroit 10th-least with 327 PK's, Chicago 13th-least with 330). Power play chances might be few and far between, but given the offensive talent on display, they'll be exciting.

In terms of how Penalty Plus/Minus looks in the playoffs so far, Marian Hossa leads Detroit with a +5 rating in just 11 games, followed by Pavel Datsyuk at +4. For Chicago, Patrick Kane sticks out with a very poor -4 rating; a skilled forward is relied upon to generate power plays, not leave his teammates shorthanded.

The Prediction

This should be a wildly entertaining series, and I have no doubt that the old enmity between these two great hockey cities will be rekindled early on. I was fortunate enough to attend Game 2 of those 1995 Conference Finals when a college buddy scored some tickets, and the energy in the stands and on the ice was something to behold (my friend was from Chicago, and I thought he was going to break down when Jeremy Roenick clanged a shot off the post as time expired, and the Hawks lost 3-2).

Two of my biggest concerns with Detroit were the goaltending and the defensive depth, but so far Osgood has been excellent, and the blueliners have done well (Brad Stuart and Jonathan Ericsson in particular). The Blackhawks will test them repeatedly, however, and Dustin Byfuglien might prove the most physically demanding obstacle they've faced yet. For Chicago, their defense will be tested as never before, as Detroit constantly seems to fire pucks on net.

As I review all of this information, the one nagging thing that comes back to me is Chris Osgood. Can he continue to perform, or will the spotty regular season play come back to bite him and the Wings? I'm guessing that he'll either hold down the fort, or Ty Conklin will do well enough as a backup for the Detroit Red Wings to win a closely played, but dynamic series.

NHL Playoffs Blog Coverage, Schedule and Scores - SB Nation

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