Previewing Chicago Blackhawks’ Most Likely First Round NHL Playoff Matchup: Colorado Avalanche
That opponent is, as you may have guessed, the very same Avalanche.
It is unlikely that either team will surpass the St. Louis Blues for first in the Central Divison. All that remains to be settled, then, is which of Chicago or Colorado will have home-ice advantage.
I don’t think that will especially matter, frankly. The Avalanche haven’t had trouble winning at the United Center this season, and the Blackhawks have been a strong road team during each of their lengthy playoff runs in 2010 and 2013.
The results of the season series between the two are almost indisputably deceiving; Colorado was significantly outshot and outplayed in four of the five games, yet managed to win three of of them, although to its credit also came away victorious in the evenly-played tilt in Denver on Wednesday night.
Semyon Varlamov has been brilliant against Chicago all season long. On the other side of things, nearly all of Corey Crawford‘s worst performances of 2013-14 have come against Colorado. Such realities often engender popular (but nevertheless silly) storylines; namely, the ever-informative “he just has that team’s number” or its sister assertion, “that team just has his number.” These, of course, are simply unnecessary ways of disguising the term “luck.” That is to say, Varlamov has been unsustainably good and Crawford has been unsustainably bad.
Indeed, this also extrapolates to the Avalanche and Blackhawks as a collective. As mentioned, Chicago has dominated in terms of scoring chances in four of the five games, yet lost three of them (due to Crawford and Varlamov). There is a narrative gaining steam among Blackhawks fans that “Chicago can’t handle Colorado’s speed” or something to that effect. Put no stock in any such claim; as is typical of any small sample size, wins and losses can often be a terribly inaccurate reflection of which team was superior.
In sum, it is exceedingly doubtful that Varlamov will be able to maintain a save percentage in the high 90s during a playoff series. Additionally, Crawford will all but surely play better than he has in the five games against the Avalanche this year.
Prior luck can be an awfully tricky, confounding factor when it comes to predicting the outcome of a playoff series based on regular season matchups. The most appropriate way to go about things, then, is to look at which team carried the majority of the play head-to-head. That was, of course, Chicago, and decisively so.
Assuming full health for both teams, the Blackhawks would likely win a series against the Avalanche in five games.
Championship experience doesn’t hurt.