Can the upstart #8 seed storm their way to the championship, just like the Los Angeles Kings did last year?
No, but we'll preview this series anyway....
Who to Boo
This series features any number of villains who can motivate Nashville Predators fans to throw popcorn at their TV's. For Chicago, there are guys like Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, who played key roles in knocking the Preds out of the 2010 playoffs. On the Minnesota side, you've got the ultimate face-to-heel tag team in Craig Leipold and Ryan Suter, who were both fundamental pieces of the Predators organization before dumping Nashville for the frostier climes of the State of Hockey.
|Minnesota Wild||Chicago Blackhawks|
|5-on-5 Save %||.912||19th||.927||8th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.15||22nd||3.12||23rd|
|# of PK's/Gm||2.81||1st||2.94||4th|
The good news for the Wild? They don't take very many penalties. The bad news? Chicago doesn't rely on their power play to beat the snot out of you. The Blackhawks are an outsanding 5-on-5 team.
They're all giddy up in Minny, and for good reason, as their 4th of July free agent spending spree has indeed paid off with a return to the playoffs. Zach Parise led the way up front with 38 points in 48 games, and Ryan Suter is talked about as the favorite to win the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenseman.
There is more to the Wild than that dynamic duo, however, as forwards Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi can all make a difference up front (even though he's out for the year with a shoulder issue, Heatley can make a helluva cheerleader in the press box). One other guy to keep an eye on, however, is 19-year-old rookie Jonas Brodin, who is getting some Calder Trophy buzz for his work playing 23 minutes a night. That's not only tops among NHL rookie defensemen, but it also included significant work on the power play and penalty kill. You usually don't see that type of well-rounded workload placed on a teenager's shoulders.
|2012 - Jonas Brodin||45||2||9||11||+3||10||1||0||0||51||3.9|
After going through a couple years of salary cap hell following their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, the Blackhawks are back with a vengeance, putting together the kind of all-around domination that would generate massive hype if it were to take place during a regular 82-game season. Across a full season, their current pace would yield 131 points in the standings, by far the most under the modern W/L/OTL setup (next is Detroit with 124 in 2005-6). It's not like this team has simply benefitted from good fortune in a short season, either, fighting through injuries to key players like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
While they still boast a number of core players from that championship team, perhaps none has taken a bigger step forward than Patrick Kane, who has shaken off the criticism to put together perhaps his finest season to date:
|2012 - Patrick Kane||47||23||32||55||+11||8||8||0||3||138||16.7|
|Dirk||Chicago||They've been the best team all season, I just don't see them slowing down.|
|Caroline||Chicago||Minnesota might win one, but I doubt they win two. Chicago's been on fire all year; they win this handily.|
|Jonathan||Chicago||No discussion. If the Wild don't get swept they should consider it a victory.|
|Chris||Chicago||Too much talent, too much firepower up front, and too much "Chelsea Dagger." Hawks take it in 6|
|George||Minnesota||I'm the contrarian in the group. Also, the Hawks are due to choke. Mild in 6.|
|Jason||Chicago||Hawks in 5...max.|
|Tuesday, April 30||7:00 p.m.||Chicago||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Friday, May 3||8:30 p.m.||Chicago||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|Sunday, May 5||2:00 p.m.||Minnesota||NBC, CBC|
|Tuesday, May 7||8:30 p.m.||Minnesota||NBC Sports Network, CBC|
|*Thursday, May 9||TBD||Chicago||CBC|
|*Saturday, May 11||TBD||Minnesota||CBC|
|*Sunday, May 12||TBD||Chicago||CBC|