For a hot second of this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, the defending champs were on the ropes. The Chicago Blackhawks had two grueling overtime games in their opening series against the St. Louis Blues, both losses. Neither defeat was a result of Chicago underperforming, but regardless, back-to-back defeats was hardly how they wanted to begin their defense of the Cup.
They haven’t lost since. The Blackhawks tore through the Blues, and are now coming off two straight decimating defeats of the Minnesota Wild. Chicago is on a tear, and there may not be anyone left in the conference who can stop them.
How scary is Chicago looking? Amidst their current six-game winning streak, they’ve outscored their competition 23-9. The Blackhawks haven’t even trailed in a game since their Game 4 overtime win over St. Louis. The Wild, coming off a thrilling seven game series victory over the Colorado Avalanche, are getting blown out of the water. They erased a two-goal deficit in Game 1, and came within one goal during Game 2 yesterday, yet each bout resulted in Chicago winning by three. The Blackhawks came into the series looking primed and ready to exploit Minnesota’s question marks in net, and they’re doing so with a vengeance.
So, if the Wild can’t rally back into this series, is there anyone left out west who can stop Chicago from returning to the finals?
If you asked the same question a couple weeks ago, you might have had a safe bet with the San Jose Sharks after they rolled up three straight wins on the Los Angeles Kings. However, that train derailed in historic fashion, with the Kings winning four straight and sending the Sharks home early.
L.A. is currently up 1-0 on the top seed Anaheim Ducks. Though the Kings are currently playing like a team of destiny, it’s essentially the same club the Blackhawks dispatched in five games during last year’s Western Conference finals. However, we’ve seen in the past how much momentum a historic series comeback can fuel a club. The stunning comeback over San Jose showed how much moxie this Los Angeles team has, something that could carry them farther than expected.
And what of the Ducks? They’ve got a ton of talent on their roster, and ended the regular season with the best record in the conference. That said, they have some issues in net as well. Coach Bruce Boudreau has already started two goalies so far this postseason, as rookie Frederik Andersen struggled in the opening series against the Dallas Stars. Jonas Hiller is back in net, but inconsistency has plagued him all season.
Of the four teams left in the west, three of them have some question marks hanging around them. The other is Chicago. Right now, the Blackhawks are steam-rolling everything in their sight, and if a club wants to beat them, it’s looking like it would require absolutely flawless play. Anything can happen – we’ve seen enough proof of that already this postseason – so you can’t pencil Chicago into the finals just yet. However, if the Blackhawks continue playing like they’ve been lately, you’d be hard-pressed to bet on anybody else.