The emergence of Chicago as one of the elite teams in the West has made their rivalry with Detroit much more interesting. The Blackhawks and Wings are in reverse positions from last year, as the Hawks fight for the top seed in the conference while the Wings jostle with the middle of the pack for positioning. With Los Angeles just one point behind Detroit for the sixth seed, a first round matchup with Chicago is not by any means out of the picture.
Pro: Chicago is ridiculously close to Detroit
I don’t know about you, but I HATE 10:30 game starts, especially in the playoffs. I, like many people in Michigan that still have jobs, have to wake up early in the morning to go to work, and a game that lasts till one in the morning usually doesn’t help that cause. Playing a team that is just over 2 hours driving distance from Motown would benefit both teams. The reduced travel time means more time resting and less time on the team airplane. The games most likely wouldn’t have a start time later than 8:30, which means games should get done well before 11 pm EST, barring overtime.
Con: Chicago has Marian Hossa now
The Hawks were already a dangerous team with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Patrick Sharp, but add Hossa into that mix and you’ve got one dangerous group of goal scorers. Hossa, love him or hate him, was a big contributor to the Wings last year in netting 40 goals. He may have disappeared in the playoffs, but he was a big reason Detroit had one of the top seeds in the league. The story has been no different in Chicago. Hossa has only played 53 games due to injury, but has still potted 23 goals and 25 assists, and is a key reason Chicago is fighting for the top spot in the West.
Pro: Chicago has Marian Hossa now
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but Marian Hossa has a thing with losing in the playoffs. In the 2008 finals, his Pittsburgh Penguins team lost the Stanley Cup Finals to the Red Wings in six games. In the 2009 finals, now with the Red Wings, Hossa lost the Stanley Cup Finals in seven games—to the Penguins. It certainly isn’t his fault his teams are losing, but you know it has to be weighing on his mind now. Do you think he could stomach a first round loss to Detroit? It would be a hard pill to swallow, especially with the Wings’ struggles this year.
Con: Playing Chicago seemed to drain the Wings last year
Anytime the Wings and Hawks play, you know you’re going to get a physical, up-tempo game. Even though Detroit dispatched of the Hawks in just five games last playoffs, the series seemed to take its’ toll on the Wings in the finals against Pittsburgh. Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk both were banged up by Game 7, and the Wings just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank as they lost four of the last five games to the Penguins. The Hawks are going to bring everything they’ve got and then some against Detroit, and that may drain the Wings again.
Pro: Chicago is going through a goaltending crisis right now
One problem you don’t want to have going into the playoffs is goaltending. Jimmy Howard may be a rookie, but there is no question right now that he is the Wings’ guy going into the postseason. Antti Niemi seems to have taken the reigns from Cristobal Huet in Chicago, but both goaltenders have had their bad moments this season. The team that was criticized the most at the trade deadline was Chicago for not going out and getting a playoff goaltender, as neither Niemi or Huet are seen as legitimate Stanley Cup goaltenders. Niemi seems to be holding up for now, but for how long will that last?
Con: Detroit struggled this season against the Hawks with injuries
The playoffs are a grueling race to the finish, and usually the healthiest team is the one that ends up on top. The Red Wings were a little beat up last year, and the Penguins outlasted them for the Cup. With Detroit’s injury struggles this season, someone re-aggravating an injury is not out of the question by any means. While Detroit was struggling with injuries this season, the Blackhawks took advantage by dismantling them in a home and home in December, both by 3-0 scores. Detroit’s offense sputtered as many key cogs in the lineup watched from the press box. Even with their full lineup the games have been close, and an injury to one or two guys could unravel the Wings.
Chicago is a very good young team, and deservedly one of the top teams in the West this season. However, their issues in goal and the absence of Brian Campbell leave two gaping holes in the Chicago defense. I don’t think that it will be a clean sweep by either team, and this one would go at least six games.