9:53 AM CDT, April 2, 2012
If the Stanley Cup playoffs started today, the Blackhawks would open against the Kings in Los Angeles.
A lot of Hawks fans would be happy about that. A lot of Hawks fans are rooting for Their Heroes to stay right where they are in the sixth spot in the Western Conference, and here’s why:
That would set up a first-round matchup with the survivor of the Pacific Division, an opponent guaranteed to have fewer points than the Hawks but gain the higher seed because it won the division.
I’m sure there’s a faction in the Hawks organ-I-zation that is rooting for that scenario, as well.
And let me just say: I think all those people are crazy.
Specifically crazy are those people who think the Hawks are pulling something over on the playoff field by getting an opponent from the Pacific.
Wise up. I mean, there’s a reason people made a big deal about the Hawks’ clinching a playoff berth: Because there was some doubt they would be able to qualify.
Since they challenged for the most points in the league in the middle of January, the Hawks have gone 15-13-4, about as mediocre as it gets. I don’t care if they won games without their concussed captain and their suspended Norris Trophy winner. That’s their record the last two months-plus, and it’s not impressive.
And now some fans and maybe other hockey people who should know better are trying to cherry-pick an opponent by rooting for a sixth-place finish?
Maybe it’s not just Jonathan Toews who’s concussed.
First, you ought to be rooting for the Hawks to finish fourth and gain home-ice advantage for the first round. That remains a possibility even after their home shootout loss to Minnesota on Sunday.
However, if the Hawks finish fifth and open against Detroit, fine. I know that might sound like heresy, but the Hawks not only have beaten the evil Red Wings three out of five this season (season finale Saturday), but the Hawks handle their circling, puck-possession style well because the Hawks try to play the same way.
Understand, I’m just breaking down a possible opponent. Not rooting, although Hawks-Wings would be the best story. Point is, the idea of loving whoever comes out of the Pacific Division is cocky and dangerous.
First of all, the Hawks don’t have a winning record this season against any of the possible Pacific champs. They went 1-3 against Los Angeles and Phoenix, and 2-2 against Dallas and San Jose.
Maybe it’s me, but it hard to understand the smug act about Pacific opponents when you can’t find even one that you beat regularly.
What’s more --- and what’s more important in the playoffs --- all four Pacific possibilities have better goaltending than the Hawks.
Old friend Antti Niemi has a 2.39 goals-against average and .915 save percentage for San Jose. Compare that with Corey Crawford’s bloated 2.87 and painful .902.
But wait. There’s more. Not only are Niemi’s key numbers better than Crawford’s, but Niemi’s key numbers are the worst among the four Pacific goalies.
Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen has a 2.31 GAA and .923 save percentage. Phoenix’s Mike Smith has a 2.29 and .927. Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick beats all of them with a 1.92 and a .930, not to mention a 3-1 record with two shutouts of the Hawks this season. He would be the guy the Hawks would try to beat without home-ice if the playoffs started today.
It might be that Crawford goes into the playoffs with the worst numbers of any starting goalie in the postseason, certainly in the Western Conference. It also might be that Crawford wins the Conn Smythe. That’s the random nature of hockey’s postseason, and that position in particular.
Of course, we won’t know until Crawford and his opponent show up and play, and that’s the point. Stop trying to pick the Hawks’ opponent. Worry about picking apart whoever that opponent is.
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