Jonathan Toews will get his first taste of NHL playoff action Thursday night in Chicago. (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)
Who says there are no guarantees in the playoffs?
No matter the outcome of the four Game 1’s Thursday night, magic is assured before the puck even drops in Chicago, where Blackhawks fans finally get another chance to create their unique shrill through the Star Spangled Banner. The United Center will be bangin’, you can bet on it.
I’d also wager the Hawks, playing their first post-season game since 2002, can expect a physical test from the Calgary Flames as the Alberta boys attempt to intimidate a young Chicago roster. It will be up to Nikolai Khabibulin to make some early saves, calm some nerves and buy some time for the Hawks to adjust to a whole new brand of hockey.
And can we please, please lay to rest this theory the Hawks hatchlings will benefit from being naïve and inexperienced, thus allowing them to flourish without the burden of expectations. This is my least favorite playoff musing since Coach A strolls up to the microphone prior to the series and says, ‘hey, all the pressure is on them,’ and hordes of media and fans cry out, ‘brilliant tactic old chap! Coach B’s boys are sure to wilt now under this startling revelation.’
It’s not like Chicago is a team of bowlers who suddenly had pucks laid at their feet. They’re hockey players who grew up playing hockey games and unless the worst stereotype about hockey player intelligence is true, they know exactly where they are and exactly what’s expected of them. It’s simply up to them to deal with it.
Two No. 1 seeds begin their push for a Cup tonight and you have to wonder if San Jose isn’t teal with envy when they look at the opponent top-ranked Boston drew in the East relative to the work they face in the West.
As long as the Bruins don’t get too hyped for their own good and get caught up chasing Mike Komisarek around the ice, they’re going to chew through the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs simply have no answer for Boston’s size, depth and overall anger level.
San Jose, meanwhile, can’t feel quite as good about facing a team that won the Stanley Cup just two years back and still relies on many qualified key figures from that run for their current success.
It will be interesting to see how much rope Jonas Hiller has in Anaheim’s crease. He deserves to start Game 1, but when you’ve got a Cup and Conn Smythe-winning backup in J-S Giguere on the bench, it’s easy to see how Ducks coach Randy Carlyle could reverse courses at the first sign of trouble.
And congratulations to the Columbus Blue Jackets on finally – finally – making the playoffs. Now, have you met the Detroit Red Wings?
Actually, I’m of the school that believes the Blue Jackets have a chance in this series. Everybody knows Detroit’s goaltending has been average, but what gets less play is the fact the Wings don’t protect their net with the same efficiency as last year.
Then there’s the fact this Steve Mason kid doesn’t even know where he is and what’s expected of him; this has all the makings of a first round upset.
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Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Fridays.
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