#3 Coyotes vs. #6 Blackhawks
Advantages Phoenix: Good performance down the stretch, Defensive approach
Similar to Florida, many pundits think the higher seeded Coyotes are the underdog in this series. However, Phoenix was hot down the stretch and owns the season series against Chicago. The Coyotes are getting excellent play from Mike Smith with an amazing .930 save percentage. This gives the Coyotes confidence that their goalie will come up big and can possibly free them from the nerves of playing at home. Phoenix also relies on a more defensive approach and will attempt to limit Chicago’s potent offense which should make for an interesting story throughout the series. The Coyotes are good with leads and will need to get in front early in games and withstand the Hawks ability to create scoring chances from skilled forwards and defense.
Barriers Phoenix: Past playoff experience, Home Crowd energy, Belief?
Phoenix has not been to the second round since moving to Arizona. Despite excellent regular seasons the Coyotes have been unable to translate that into success in the post season. Getting someone other than the Red Wings in the first round may seem like a blessing, but the Blackhawks are highly motivated to show that last year’s first round exit was a fluke. Recent playoff experience does not bolster the confidence of the team. You would hope that the Phoenix crowd could create great energy for its team, but it could become silent if the Coyotes get behind in games.
Bottom line: do the Coyotes believe they can beat a high quality team like Chicago? The proof will be in the pressure moments and how they execute.
Advantages Chicago: Playoff experience, Kane, Hossa, Keith, Seabrook, Home crowd
Chicago still boasts many players from its Stanley Cup in 2010. They can rely on that playoff experience to bolster their belief that they can do it again. It does not hurt to have high end players like Kane, Hossa, Toews, Keith and Seabrook that could dominate this series. The Hawks know their top end guys can match anyone, and now they are getting contributions from guys like Andrew Shaw that should help them gain an advantage in this series.
The Hawks are a motivated team looking to comeback from last year’s loss to Vancouver. They always get tremendous support from the home crowd and use that energy to establish their offensive pressure game. Chicago are about the best #6 seed I have seen and are confident that they can win this series.
Barriers Chicago: Toews’ health, Goaltending, Underestimating Phoenix
The biggest barrier may be Toews’ health. Will he be able to return to the lineup and provide much needed scoring help and leadership? If he does not return it could expose Chicago enough that Phoenix could gain an edge in the series. However, I would argue the biggest concern is between the pipes. Will Crawford step up this year and be the #1 guy the Hawks need to take them deep in the playoffs? Soft goals will put the pressure on the Hawks and will be a recipe for trouble. If the Hawks get behind and are pressed to create scoring chances Crawford will have to be ready to come up big.
Finally, Chicago cannot overlook Phoenix and be thinking about a possible rematch with the Canucks. They need to be prepared for the solid defensive play of the Coyotes and patient enough to win it over 60 minutes not 20 or 40. The Hawks cannot become frustrated if Smith is playing amazing. They have to stay composed, play their game, and trust that sticking to the plan will lead to success.
Take Homes: Chicago would seem to have the edge in confidence because of their experience. Can the Coyotes finally break through and how we they handle adversity?