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Blackhawks Thu Apr 12 2012

Hawks: Ready for Playoffs

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for GB blackhawks icon.pngThe playoffs are upon us. It's some of the most gratifying hockey fans will experience. With seven-game series allowing for instant rematches and revenge following less desirable games, and four-game sweeps bestowing gloating rights to the winning team for having taken such a decided victory. It's dramatic, exciting, and above all, another opportunity for the Hawks to reunite with the Stanley Cup.

The Blackhawks secured the sixth seed in the Western Conference, clinching their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Their regular season saw a fair amount of success, but was riddled with injuries and tainted with inconsistencies. Let's take a look at how the men in red are stacking up as they enter the post season.

Goalies

It's true, the Hawks didn't have a single shutout in the regular season. But in no way does this mean the goaltenders don't have what it takes to get them through the playoffs. Corey Crawford will likely be starting in Game 1, as he did last year. His record isn't stellar, with a 2.72 GAA and .903 save percentage. However, Crawford is talented and plays well under pressure. He helped keep the team afloat last year in the playoffs when they suffered three straight losses in the first round and answered with three wins before falling in the seventh game in overtime. Even when Crawford is off his game though, backup Ray Emery, who was recently given a one-year contract extension, is an asset to have at the ready.

Defense

Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook lead the blue line with skill and experience, having both played in the playoffs together previously. Keith's 36 assists this season make him a dangerous defender. Johny Oduya was a fortunate last minute pick up at the trade deadline, who's proving talents in both physicality on the ice, and finesse with the puck. The third pairing has been a bit shaky, however, with Niklas Hjalmarsson's concussion putting him on the bench for several games this season and Nick Leddy's inconsistent performance compared to previous years.

Offense

Jonathan Toews said he's confident he will be suiting up for the team's first match up against the Coyotes, and reuniting such an unstoppable offensive set as Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa would be a welcome sight. However, we can't expect Toews to jump in head first. Chances are he will ease back into play, but considering how the team has fared for more than 20 games without him, this shouldn't cause undo stress.

Special Teams

The offense is stacked with talent, from Patrick Sharp's surgeon-like skills with the puck to Dave Bolland's steady control. However, a significant point of weakness for the Hawks has been its power-play and penalty kills. They rank 26th out of 30 in power-plays at 15.2 percent. Meanwhile, the Hawks are 27th in penalty kills at 78.1 percent. The reintroduction of Toews to the line-up could offer some better outcomes, but it takes more than one player to fix a power-play. No doubt, the team has been working on these plays in preparation for playoffs.

Their injuries are healing, and they've had some learning experiences this season. With a little work on their power-play and consistent goaltending, the Hawks have a fighting chance of raising the cup over Madison Avenue once again.

First things first though -- the Hawks will be starting their playoff run in Phoenix against the Pacific Division champs, the Coyotes. This will be the first time the two have faced one another in the post season.

 
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