Central

Analyzing Possible First-Round Matchups for Blackhawks

Analyzing Possible First-Round Matchups for Blackhawks
Luke Lapinski

Technically speaking, the Chicago Blackhawks have yet to officially punch their ticket to this year’s playoffs. And with the way Devan Dubnyk and the Minnesota Wild are playing, it’s entirely possible that Chicago ends up in a wild card spot. That’s how strange this season has been – Chicago and Los Angeles could end up as the two wild cards out West.

That doesn’t mean the ‘Hawks are in any real danger of missing the postseason though. At least not when you apply common sense, mixed with any memory of hockey over the last five years. In fact, a well-timed winning streak right now could feasibly vault them all the way to the top of the Central, if the right teams slip up down the stretch. And then Chicago might actually end up facing the Kings in the first round of the playoffs. Because that’s how strange this season has been.

We’re here to clear things up though, not confuse. So here’s a quick look at the potential first round opponents for Joel Quenneville’s squad, with an eye towards who might pose the most favorable (and most difficult) matchups. Because as good and playoff-tested as this group is, they are going to have to make it through at least the first series without offensive wizard Patrick Kane.

 

Winnipeg Jets
Season Series: 3-1-1 Jets
Oddly enough, this could be the toughest first round matchup of them all. In many ways, the Jets have beaten the odds to hang around this year. And it’s looking more and more like they’re going to secure a wild card spot. If they do, they can thank the Blackhawks, whom they defeated three times by a combined score of 10-3, before dropping the final two meetings by just one goal each. Dustin Byfuglien poses matchup problems for everyone, and he seems to especially have it out for his former team. In five games this season, he’s notched two goals, three assists and 19 hits against Chicago.

 

Vancouver Canucks
Season Series: 2-0 Canucks
True, Chicago has yet to beat Vancouver this season. And yes, the Canucks probably wouldn’t mind exacting a little revenge on the ‘Hawks for some past playoff meetings. It still feels like they just need to play a little “Chelsea Dagger” in the arena and whoever is in net for Vancouver will instantly start having flashbacks to 2009 and 2010.

 

Los Angeles Kings
Season Series: 1-1
Let’s be honest: this is the series we’re all hoping for. A rematch of the last two Western Conference Finals? In the opening round, so we

a.) get to witness a third epic series between these two teams and simultaneously and

b) get to see some new blood in the third round?

Yes, please.

 

Anaheim Ducks
Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks
If we don’t get Chicago-Los Angeles, this wouldn’t be a bad alternative at all. Both clubs have been perennial regular season powers, yet they’ve somehow never met in the postseason. On paper, it seems like the Ducks could pose some problems for the Blackhawks, though Chicago won the last two meetings – both in Orange County – by a combined 8-2 score. It should be noted that Kane had four goals and an assist in those two contests though, so his absence might be felt even more than usual in a first round series between these two teams.

 

St. Louis Blues
Season Series: 2-1 Blackhawks
Another potentially great Round 1 showdown – and the one we’d get if the season ended today. It doesn’t though, and that’s probably fine by the Blues. St. Louis has been eliminated by Chicago eight times since 1973, including a brutal 4-2 series defeat last April. Still, Vladimir Tarasenko‘s rise to superstardom – coupled with the revenge factor from a year ago – could make this the playoffs’ best opening round series if it happens.

 

Calgary Flames
Season Series: 2-0-1 Blackhawks
Every contest between these two clubs this season has been decided by one goal. The Flames have been one of the best stories in the NHL this year, and the thought of seeing Johnny Gaudreau in a playoff game is so exciting it would make Brian Burke smile. This also has the feel of one of those series where the announcers talk about “all the valuable lessons an inexperienced Calgary team learned” by getting eliminated by Chicago in five games though.

 

Minnesota Wild
Season Series: 3-1 Blackhawks
Chicago erupted for 13 goals in the first three matchups with Minnesota this season, but it should be noted that Kane was on the ice for all three games (and dominant, registering eight points) while Dubnyk was not. He was still in Arizona at the time, meaning all three contests were against that weird, pre-January 14 Wild team that none of us remembers at this point. In the one game since then, Dubnyk pitched a shutout. This could be fun.

 

Nashville Predators
Season Series: 3-1 Blackhawks
Chances are, the ‘Hawks would have to end up as a wild card for this matchup to happen early. In which case, the Preds would have to hold onto the division lead. With Pekka Rinne in net, Nashville is more than capable of knocking off anyone – but a first round meeting with Chicago would be a pretty brutal “reward” for winning the Central.

Central
Luke Lapinski
@LukeLapinski

Luke is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he did radio play-by-play for a variety of Sun Devil sports as a student. Since then, he’s done extensive on-air radio work in Phoenix, predominantly as the pre and postgame host of Arizona Coyotes hockey. He’s been writing about sports for as long as he can remember, most notably as a frequent contributor to ESPN.com’s Insider and Rumor Central pages for a few years. He also co-hosts a hockey podcast creatively titled “The Hockey Podcast”, that can be found on iTunes and TuneIn.

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