RedEye

The Luongo and winding road: Hawks in 6

Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo was talking about his favorite former Blackhawks nemesis:

“I don’t think they won the Stanley Cup because of Dustin Byfuglien.’’

Nope, just the Vancouver and San Jose series when he had eight goals in the 10 games. So, who’s going to be Byfuglien now?

Nobody.

Or Bryan Bickell. Doesn’t matter because these Hawks aren’t those Hawks. Worse, these Hawks don’t always look like they know who they are.

Perfect, then, that they open on the road, if only because they’ve reverted to some bad habits at home. More importantly, it’s easier to play boring, chip-it-out, chip-it-in hockey in the other guy’s building. Let nervous locals boo another blown power play. Let the Canucks panic into putting on a show after winning the pressure of the President’s Trophy.

Until further notice, like when they win the Cup, the Canucks are the new Sharks: So good during the regular season, so much expected in the playoffs, so little delivered. The pressure is even more acute in Canada, where they do such things as move up a debate among French language leaders to Tuesday to avoid staging it during the Montreal-Boston opener on Thursday.

The Hawks can make that nationalistic burden work for them, and here’s how: The Hawks don’t really intimidate teams by making plays at top speed anymore, while the Canucks do it better. So, let them try. Let them force it. Let them make mistakes, and then bury those chances. It’s a rope-a-dope strategy. Pretty simple. Playoff hockey usually is. The Hawks have been quick studies before. I expect it again.

Two years ago, the Hawks made Luongo cry. Last year, they made him resign his captaincy. This year, they get his house and car.

Hawks in six.

The Sedins are ready for their annual Dave Bolland vivisection, but the problem is, even if Bolland can play against Vancouver, it’s unlikely he’ll be in mid-Sedin-abusing form. I’m sure that Ryan Johnson will get a lot of time against his former teammates, if coach Joel Quenneville can arrange it. But I also would use the Jonathan Toews line against the Swedes because he’s a stud at both ends and can play a puck-possession game against a line that doesn’t always know where its defensive zone is and would force the Sedins to expend effort checking.

After the Hawks ended the Canucks’ season last year, Vancouver general manager Mike Gillis sat down fleet and feisty Ryan Kesler and made him watch a clips of Toews. In the video, Toews was crosschecked a couple times, hit the ice, got back up, tracked down the puck, and helped create another goal. Message to Kesler: Be like Toews. Message to Hawks fans: Uh-oh. Kesler jumped from 25 goals to 41 this season while cutting down stupid penalties from 104 minutes to just 66. This is what makes you urpy: When the Sedins are done piling up nearly 200 points, the Canucks roll out Kesler and his goal total that was seven more than the Hawks’ best. Meanwhile, the Hawks follow the Toews line with, um, yes, well, I guess the three goals of Michael Frolik. When I put it that way, I can’t believe I’m picking the Hawks in six.

The Canucks finished the season with the best power play in the league. The Hawks finished 25th on the penalty kill. Cup winners the last four years finished no worse than eighth. Really can’t believe I’m picking the Hawks at all.

Emotional datebook for fans: Feel good if the Hawks steal Game 1, feel better if they take Game 2, no matter what happens in Game 1. The NHL offered the odd stat that winners of Game 1 go on to win first-round series 67 percent of the time since 2006, while winners of Game 2 advance to the second round 70 percent of the time. Odd, no? While the Hawks and Canucks played in the second round last year, it might be worth noting that Game 2 was the turning point in the series. The Hawks lost the opener at home and were down 2-1 in the third period when Patrick Sharp tied it, setting the stage for the heroics from -- ta-da -- Kris Versteeg with less than two minutes to go. That goal by the way, featured plays by Versteeg’s linemates Bolland and Andrew Ladd. Two are gone and Bolland is hoping the fog clears, so last year’s clutch third line might be a total scratch this spring. In fact, the bottom two lines from the Cup winners are gone, so it will require all of Quenneville’s line-matching acumen to avoid letting the Sedins skate against the fourth line the way Detroit got Pavel Datsyuk out against Jake Dowell, Bryan Bickell and Fernando Pisani in Sunday’s aggravating choke.

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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