So our rather dangerous wish was granted and now our young Hawks have a chance to prove themselves against the best. Forget about allegiances, no matter what happens this should be an up-tempo, offensively focused, and highly entertaining series. It should also gain some national attention outside of the normal hockey circles and I can think of no better way to show everyone that the boring, trappy, dead puck era is finally over.
A fair amount is being made of the regular season series which is to be expected considering the Winter Classic is included in that and that's the last time the bulk of the country's sportswriters actually gave a damn and spilled any ink about hockey. Almost every article mentions the Hawks winning the last 2 games of the season while also making sure to include the meaningless nature of those games quickly.
As everyone on this board knows, the season series ended 2-2-2. I get irritated when those 2 wins are called meaningless, but in reality, they were. Neither team had anything to play for other than making sure no one got hurt. What gets lost though is that the previous 4 games weren't exactly signs of one team dominating another. The Wings see the early season series as 4-0, but that's incredibly misleading. Two wins were shootout wins which has as much meaning now as a Sedin. In many games, the Hawks held multi-goal leads even into the 3rd period. The Hawks also dominated portions of those games. The 2nd period of the early game in Detroit comes to mind.
All of this is say though that it was the regular season and has no bearing on what's to come. The Hawks team that closed out Calgary on the road and won 2 of 3 games in Vancouver is vastly different from the October Hawks that couldn't hold onto games and got caught staring in awe at their big brother Wings. That's really how I see this series, the Hawks are the little brother that's just starting to figure it out. The older (literally) Wings sort of toyed with them back in October and even in December. The test now is whether the Hawks have grown up enough to finally take over.
KEYS TO THE SERIES
I always get a laugh out of these pre-game because it's always some combination of the same thing. Stay out of the box, get to the net, etc. But hockey's kind of a simple game in reality and the best laid plans are out the window once the puck is dropped. The chaos of the game dictates events and the best you can do is adopt a system that puts you in the best position during the chaos. So really, there's not much else you can say other than broadly generalized pre-game plans. That said, I thought I'd expand a little on these for what I think it's going to take to win.
Stay out of the box
Not much even needs to be said here, it's obvious. Detroit's PP is deadly and ranked only behind the Hawks in the playoffs. In the regular season the Wings were the best PP team, converting on over 25% of their chances. They have too much skill and will undoubtedly make you pay eventually. Stupid, lazy penalties have to be avoided in this series. I'm looking at you, 88.
Get physical, smartly
Multiple seasons have gone by with the Wings being criticized for a lack of toughness. Despite the criticism, they just seem to keep racking up Cups. It's not a lack of toughness, but they just will not take the bait more often than not and while other teams chase them around the rink trying to make hits, the Wings go on odd man rushes and light the lamp. However, the current Wings are certainly getting up there in age and the Ducks showed that they can be vulnerable to a physical style of play. A couple of things work in the Hawks favor here. One, the Hawks have team speed to equal, if not surpass, the Wings. The Hawks can get away with being a little out of position and rely on their speed to recover. It's not something they should make a habit of against the Wings, but they can afford to push a physical game. The key is making smart hits and finishing checks without getting lured into chasing hits. If the Hawks are able to play this style, it should really wear on the Wings.
Get to the net
This should just be the playoff mantra of every coach. If the Hawks are going to win this series, they need to have Big Buff getting into extended games of "Name That Smell" with Osgood. I firmly believe Osgood is the weak link here. This is a guy that was sent to his room to think about what he had done not that many weeks ago. Now all of a sudden he's fine again? Of just about any goalie I can think of, I think Osgood has benefitted the most from the team in front of him. When the D-men and defensively skilled forwards are clearing out all the garbage in front of Osgood, it prevents him from having to make 30+ stops a game and from having to make some of the really tough saves. Those are the guys that have raised their games in the playoffs and have helped make Osgood look like a stud again. If Buff and others can get in there and stir things up, I can't imagine Osgood coming out of this looking any better than Luongo.
Nothing is promised at this stage and quite honestly, there isn't an outcome of this series that would surprise me. The smart money says this is going 6 or 7, but I could make cases for sweeps in either direction also. As far as my prediction though, I say the dream season continues. Hawks in 6.