Previewing Chicago Blackhawks’ Most Likely First Round NHL Playoff Matchup: Colorado Avalanche

Chicago Blackhawks Colorado Avalanche Playoffs

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off another loss to the Colorado Avalanche, the Chicago Blackhawks‘ first round opponent in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs appears all but set in stone.

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.

Sean Sarcu is a Chicago Blackhawks writer for Follow him on Twitter or add him to your network on Google.

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  • HockeyTonk

    The Avs have actually won 4 of 5 games against the B-Hawks…
    “Colorado was significantly outshot and outplayed in four of the five games, yet managed to win three of of them”

  • AWOL

    Your logic is that the Blackhawks out shot the Avs and are therefore superior. This could be the case except that almost every team out shoots the Avs and they still come away with wins. You can write off four games as flukes but to write off 40 wins despite being out shot boarders on naivety. Perhaps instead, the Avs neutral zone play is weak but there play at both ends is superb. A weak neutral zone would lead to difficulties in pushing the puck into the opposing team’s zone which in turn leads to a lack of shots. The weak area would also lead to more turn overs and shots by opponents. The speed of MacKinnon and Duchene as well as the stick handling of Stastny and O’Reilly certainly mean that when they do have their chances they capitalize. People have been saying all year that Varlamov could not sustain the success he showed in the beginning of the season. He was phenomenal in the first 20 games but the detractors said he could not keep it up. 40 games later, Varlamov is still rock solid in net. Why must it be then that he cannot keep up this pace through the post season? There are a couple of other factors as well that lend credibility to a successful playoff run by the Avs. The first big ticket item is Coach Roy. The roster has changed very little since last year and yet the team is miles ahead of where it was last year. Coach Roy brings a skill, presence, and fire with him that have lit a spark in this team. He also has plenty of playoff experience. They will be a smart playoff team. The other factor, and perhaps most important, is this team believes in itself. They believe they can do it and confidence can make or break a team.
    My prediction Avs in 6.

  • Sean Sarcu

    HockeyTonk, my apologies for not being clearer. What I meant is that the Avs have won three of the four games in which they have been distinctly outplayed, not that they have won three out of the five overall.

    AWOL, it has been shown time and time again that abnormally high shooting percentages (and abnormally low ones) regress to the mean – it is a basic law of statistics that has reared its head in hockey every year.
    Note that I didn’t say Varlamov couldn’t sustain success in general (which you appear to think I said). I only claimed that – again, based purely on the concept of statistical likelihood – we can presume that he probably won’t be turning aside 95-96 percent of the shots thrown his way through the course of an entire playoff series. That’s what he’s done against Chicago this season; it’s incredibly unlikely it would happen again in a 4-7 game sample (although still possible).

    Other than that, your points are mostly opinion-based, which is perfectly fine. We’ll see what happens!

  • AWOL

    Sean, I apologize if I misunderstood. You are absolutely right that it would be statistically unlikely for any goalie to sustain a 95% save rate. Perhaps it is just hope then that makes me believe he will keep up that pace. Regardless, I suppose we are likely in for one hell of a playoff series. I would say good luck to you but considering your prediction and mine I won’t be doing that. Thank you for the response though.

  • guest

    What about TT?

    Hawks need to make some cap space to fit him in.
    Not sure how it works as the Hawks are against the cap ceiling.