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Wednesday, April 24

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Blackhawks Wed Apr 13 2011

Hawks vs. Canucks: Keys to Springing an Upset

Humbled by a frustrating, injury-plagued season, the Blackhawks begin their defense of last year's Stanley Cup title as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. Their reward for scratching out a playoff berth on the final day of the regular season: a date with the Vancouver Canucks, Presidents' Trophy winners with a league-best 117 points.

hawks canucks vertical.PNGThere's no doubt the 97-point Hawks are underdogs against a powerful Vancouver team led by star forwards Daniel and Henrik Sedin and goalie Roberto Luongo, but No. 8 seeds have a better chance in hockey than any other sport.

Here are three things Chicago can do to pull off the upset, starting with Game 1 on Wednesday (9 p.m., CSN):

1. No room for error in goal

Calder Trophy contender Corey Crawford has had a phenomenal rookie season, but he will be facing the terrifying Sedins on their home ice. Crawford might also have the pressure of matching his counterpart Luongo, who is going into the playoffs with a career-low 2.11 goals against average and a .928 save percentage that ranks second-best in his 11 seasons.

Crawford also will have to live up to the standard set last year by Antti Niemi, a breakout star of Chicago's Cup run who outplayed Luongo when these teams met in the West semifinals.

While Crawford has easily outshined veteran backup goalie Marty Turco, moving into the starting spot early in the season, he'll need to play out of his head throughout the Vancouver series to give the Hawks a chance.

2. Defense is imperative

If the Blackhawks can't keep the puck in Vancouver's end, they'll be in major trouble. This could pose a problem against the Canucks' sheer size and strength, but the Hawks will need to use their speed and skating skills to control the game.

Chicago might get help from forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer, who might make their returns to the ice just in time for the first round of playoffs. Bolland missed the past 14 games after suffering complications from a concussion he received on March 9 in Tampa, while Brouwer has missed the past three with a shoulder injury from the Montreal game on April 5.

The duo can help out the Hawks defense in keeping the Sedins in their own zone and drawing penalties from the twins. Either Bolland or Brouwer could take some defensive pressure off the first line, allowing the Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane team to get to work offensively.

Speaking of Kane, look for him or Tomas Kopecky to be hanging around the goal when the Hawks are on the offensive. No doubt coach Joel Quenneville will try to find someone to fill Dustin Byfuglien's cherry-picking spot from last year.

3. Avoid key penalties

The Blackhawks can't afford the bad penalties that haunted them in early March. The team will have to come out calm and steady, avoiding any costly mistakes that could lead to Canucks power plays. This is especially true for defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, who cost the team valuable minutes after sloppy delay-of-game penalties during consecutive games.

Although the Canucks aren't the first team Blackhawks fans think of as rivals, this is a grudge match. The Canucks have been knocked out of the playoffs by Chicago the past two seasons, and they're ready to make up for it this time. This could lead to more scuffles than usual, and Chicago has to make sure they don't throw the first punches that could lead to time in the box.

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marcus / April 14, 2011 3:16 AM

The blackhawks looked liked shit. I cried at the end I really wanted us too win! I don't think anyone can refill byfugliens spot. loosing him is loosin us our trophy!

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