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« When I Can't Root For The Sox, I Still Don't Like The Cubs Sayonara, Nashville! Hellllooo, Vancouver. »

Blackhawks Tue Apr 27 2010

Bring on the 'Nucks

Following a wild first period that saw seven goals between the two teams, the Blackhawks hung on and collected an empty net goal from John Madden to seal the game 5-3 and win their first round series against the Nashville Predators 4-2. The Hawks advance to the secound round and the Vancouver Canucks, a rematch of last season's conference semifinals.

Though the full schedule hasn't been announced, the first game of the series will be this Friday at the United Center, time TBD. The regular season saw the teams split the series 2-2, with each team earning a home and road win.

Jonathon Toews and Patrick Sharp had a goal and 2 assists apiece, and Marian Hossa notched 3 assists to lead the Hawks to the 5-3 victory in a tension-filled, nail biting affair. In fact, last night's win could easily be attributed to a fluky goal, where the Hawks' Brent Seabrook tried to dump the puck, which ricocheted off Patrick Kane at the blueline and into the open net when Preds goalie Pekka Rinne went to play the puck.That lucky bounce, along with strong penalty killing again, with Nashville finally tallying a goal but going 1-for-5 (and a dismal 1-for-26 in the entire series), was the differecence in the series. Also, entering his first postseason, goalie Antti Niemi was a major question mark in net to many, but with 2 shutouts and fairly solid play throughout (give or take a few soft goals), he proved that while he may not steal a game with heroics, he can give the Hawks a chance.

After going down 2-1 in the series, the Hawks began to exert the effort and will to win the next 3 games and advance. While the Predators style of game stymied the Hawks offensively and disrupted their flow, Nashville also was outworking the Blackhawks for a large part of the series. Now, facing a tougher, more talented Vancouver team in the 2nd round, the Blackhawks are going to need to bring the energy every night, and step up their defensive zone coverage in a major way. While the penalty kill shined against Nashville, 26 penalties in 6 games is also a troubling number that a more offensively-minded team like the Canucks can exploit. Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo is also a high-caliber talent who made some clutch saves in their first-round series over the L.A. Kings, but the Hawks and Dustin Byfuglien rattled him last playoffs, and chased him with 5 goals off 14 shots in a 6-3 win March 3, showing they can get in his head when the pressure mounts.

Whether the Nashville series was a wake-up call or a sign of bigger trouble looming on the horizon remains to be seen, but for now, the Blackhawks can celebrate having battled through a tough opponent and advancing to the conference semis for the 2nd straight year.

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