Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings - Game Three

We’re one game away from another season of the Presidents’ Trophy winner not winning the Stanley Cup, which is going to perpetuate the narrative that certain teams are good in the regular season and not in the playoffs. Because the… sixth seed does so much better than the first seed in the postseason.

Or doesn’t.

Living in Vancouver, I frequently get into arguments, both online and in person, with people who do believe that the playoffs reveal a team’s flaws. If that is true, it’s because against quality opponents a team is more likely to break or have weaknesses hammered. The Toronto Maple Leafs ate up the weak Boston Bruins’ defensive depth. The San Jose Sharks shut down the one line of the Vancouver Canucks and let the rest of the pieces fall into play. All teams have weaknesses, and all teams have strengths, and not always will one team’s strengths match up so perfectly against another’s weakness.

Also, playoff teams tend to be better than non-playoff teams.

The Blackhawks never lost three consecutive games this season, you see. However, they did lose three in a row against playoff teams between March 20 and March 29, they lost three of four against playoff teams between January 30 and February 12, and they came into the postseason on a two-game losing streak against playoff teams.

The point isn’t that the Blackhawks aren’t a good team. They are. The Chicago Blackhawks are probably the best team in hockey. They had very good possession statistics, 4th in overall Corsi, 5th in Corsi Tied and 2nd in Fenwick Close. Unlike Los Angeles or New Jersey, however, the Blackhawks also host a few good shooters who can turn possession into goals.

Full value, the Blackhawks had 72 points on the season. Unlike Anaheim, the lone team in the West that came close, the Blackhawks weren’t on a precipice of percentages that made their winning unlikely to continue. They got strong goaltending this season from Cory Crawford, but also controlled the puck well and out-played the opposition night-in and night-out. Too much was probably made of their early season streak, because they did happen to lose three games before that 6-2 loss in Colorado. Chicago was a great team, still is a great team, will be a great team for a few more years yet, but probably won’t come back to take three against Detroit. But, hey, anything is possible.

It’s true that the team has lost some guys from the 2010 season. More than half of them, in fact, but compare the 2013 Blackhawks to the 2010 Blackhawks and you may be more impressed by the earlier version. Other than Brian Campbell, the core has stuck around. If Jonathan Toews was good enough to be a leader and a Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2010, he’s good enough to be one in 2013. There’s no point in dragging in some overwrought comparison to the 2010 team, but I would point out:

  1. The teams’ primary three centremen from 2010: Toews, Sharp and David Bolland, are still around.
  2. David Bolland is playing on a scoring line for some reason.
  3. Hawks’ additions like Brandon Saad, Viktor Stalberg, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik are all very effective in their roles.
  4. The team is playing Michal Handzus entirely too much.

Of the 22 skaters who played a minute for the Blackhawks during that playoff run, only Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish and Colin Fraser have been present for series victories for other teams since leaving Chicago, and I wouldn’t suggest that any of those three were big reasons why.

Toews was on a first line with Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. Now they’ve split up Kane and put him with Michal Handzus, a player who has been limited in ability for two seasons, and Sharp, who was good enough to be a Top Six centreman in 2010 but evidently no longer in today’s world. David Bolland has played all four games of the Detroit series, but playing fewer minutes than the ones he was good enough for in 2010.

Teams change and especially for championship teams, it becomes difficult to keep together winning atmospheres, but it’s also a salary cap age where it’s difficult to keep together any team. The most you can hope for is to keep together a core, and for the most part, the Hawks have done that.

The Blackhawks were a goal away from unseating the 2011 Western Conference champions in the first round, and lost in the first round to Phoenix last season only after Corey Crawford turned up an .893 save percentage. Crawford was .926 on the season and .935 in the playoffs, so he hasn’t been the problem for Chicago. They’re playing a good team, and sometimes good teams beat other good teams.

There’s a horror that the Blackhawks may have the audacity to go 5-5 in the playoffs. The regular season Blackhawks would never do this (except between March 8 and March 31—the team would then win 15 of their next 19). Generally, failures in the playoffs are circumstantial, and teams that go through droughts don’t have enough time to recover and all you see is the barren, loss-filled half of the playoffs. If I’m counting right, the Blackhawks’ PDO is .989 and we know what happens to teams with lower PDOs early in the regular season.

Problem is, if the season lasts just one more game, it ends there, and we never get to see.

Everybody asks about the sample size in a 48-game season. The sample size in a playoff series is even lower than that. It provides a more satisfying end to the season, but you won’t convince me ever that there will be enough games played in a playoff run that shows the true mettle of a team. Usually, the teams with playoff failures face the same problems in the regular season. They just have more time to recover.