The Blackhawks’ weakness entering these playoffs supposedly resided in between the pipes. However, with the exception of one bad goal in an opening-game loss, Chicago’s Antti Niemi did nary a thing to damage his team’s chances in a six-game triumph over Nashville in the first round.
I see no reason why Niemi’s hot streak shouldn’t continue in the second round against Vancouver.
Assuming Niemi can play Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo to a stalemate — and Luongo didn’t always play up to his super-human status in the first-round victory of Los Angeles — then the Blackhawks should have the edge based on their better secondary scorers and depth on defense.
The Canucks will win if … Luongo plays out of his mind and makes sure that almost none of the handful of great scoring chances, including breakaways, Chicago usually gets turn into goals. Mikael Samuelsson has to maintain his hot hand and someone of the group of Pavel Demitra, Ryan Kesler and Alexander Burrows has to step up with extra offense in support of Henrik and Daniel Sedin’s line. And the Canucks have to tighten up their penalty kill, which was abused by the Kings.
The Blackhawks will win if … Niemi keeps up his solid play and the Chicago dynamic duo of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrooke can slow down the Sedins. The Blackhawks are going to need secondary scoring from the likes of Kris Versteeg, Dave Bolland and Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien is going to have to wreak havoc in front of Luongo. The ‘Hawks’ power play has to be a little better than in the first round.
My pick: Chicago in 5. The ‘Hawks have just too much firepower and depth and mobility on the back end to let the Canucks hang with them too long.