Every playoff matchup will receive a once-over prior to puck drop this week, including Bourne’s prediction, explanation and final thought on each. He does not hate your team. He does not love your team. He is just talking hockey.
Previously: #2 St. Louis Blues vs. #7 San Jose Sharks
#3 Phoenix Coyotes vs. #6 Chicago Blackhawks
Season matchup: Phoenix had the advantage, 3-1
Who wins the series: Coyotes
How many games: Seven
Please do explain:
The Pacific Division champion Phoenix Coyotes (97 points) enter the playoffs as a #3 seed this year, and welcome the sixth seeded Chicago Blackhawks who just limped into playoffs with….wait, what’s that? 101 points? Stupid divisions.
Like it or not, the Coyotes once again start off playoffs with the “underdog” label, only this time they’ve got the added bonus of home ice advantage.
First, some notable numbers:
The Chicago Blackhawks have had a potent offense for years now, and they kept it going strong – they scored 2.94 goals-per-game, which was the 6th highest total in the League. When the Coyotes win, they tend to go about it a little differently – they’re 18th in goals-per-game (2.56), but they’re 5th in goals-allowed-per-game, with a stingy average of 2.37. The good news for the Coyotes, is that the Hawks aren’t nearly as tight in that department, giving up 2.82, which was 22nd in the league.
While stat-mining today, I found one thing a little confusing:
The Chicago Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook. They were 6th in the league in goals-per-game. Yet their powerplay was an atrocity this season, 26th in the NHL, with a conversion rate of 15.2 percent. I thought that had to easily be the worst playplay in playoffs, but nope. The Yotes managed to finish 29th overall with a 13.6%(!) success rate. Please, please play 5-on-5.
(Chicago’s special teams as a whole were garbage. They’re 27th in the League in penalty killing, with a 78.1% average. Maybe that’ll help out the Yotes powerplay.)
As a team who relies on defense (or at least I thought they did), there was another stand-out stat for Phoenix. They’re 28th in the NHL in shots-allowed-per-game (31.6), which points to something else we need to talk about: goaltending.
While Phoenix’s skaters might not be able to hang in a skills contest with Chicago’s, Mike Smith has turned in a Vezina-contending season, piling up 38 wins with a .930 save percentage, and a 2.21 goals against. Corey Crawford had a better March, but he still finished with a .903 save percentage and a 2.72 goals against average. If Smith can keep up his stellar play, the Blackhawks can get all the shots they want – the Coyotes are still going to be in the game.
Jonathan Toews is making his return tonight for the Hawks, which is huge for them, but I still like the Coyotes to squeak out the series based basically on desperation and timing. Shane Doan has never won a playoff series. The team is talking with potential owners. They claimed the Pacific. It just seems like the right time to take the next step, and as a team who’s always won with a certain amount of ”how do they keep winning again?,” I see no reason for it stop now.
They have the advantage in the net, in team defense, and most importantly, behind the bench. Dave Tippett is the NHL’s best coach, and can adjust his team faster than any other coach.
It’ll be close, but in the end I think the Coyotes prevail.
What I’m excited to find out:
If Corey Crawford can keep from deflating his team.
You battle so. hard. in playoffs, for every inch, every shot, just everything. So when your team has solid coverage, and your tender lets in a softie under his arm, it just feels hopeless. At the very least, Crawford will need to play average to give the Blackhawks a chance to win.
Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are great defenders, but I like how Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson play just as much. If they can stay responsible defensively, I could see those two kicking in some big points for Phoenix and giving their team the push they need.