Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Hawk Talk: 'Nuck, 'Nuck, Look Who's There

Friday, April 30, 2010
8:03 PM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

If the Canucks keep scoring 4.17 goals per playoff game (as they did in the first round versus Los Angeles), any questions about whether Roberto Luongo can goaltend his team into a conference final for the first time in his career won't matter. And Antti Niemi will feel at least some of Luongo's pain after the Blackhawks' seven-goal Game 6 clincher last May.

Niemi and the Hawks' defense were good against Nashville. You don't get two shutouts without being good. But you're also not great if you're blowing 3-1 leads in back-to-back games en route to victories that closed out that series. No one needs to tell them the Canucks aren't (with all due respect) the Predators.

Alain Vigneault decided it was ex-Red Wing Mikael Samuelsson "on" and Alex Burrows "off" the Sedin Line going into the Kings series. The result? 12 goals, 29 points from that line alone! The Hawks' top guns seemed to feel their way around what the Predators gave them for three games, and bravely faced the criticisms as panic began to creep into Hawk Nation. They acknowledged they needed to do better, then went out and were.

Toews, Hossa, and Sharp combined for no goals and four assists those first three games (while Patrick Kane still managed a pair of goals and a helper). Then they went out and delivered the knockout punch the final three games, the trio delivering six goals and 18 points.

More times than not, however, these series need that surprise "X" Factor (especially when you're only killing 16 of 26 penalties). Vancouver got that with Steve Bernier - 11 goals in the regular season, four in six games against L.A. If the Hawks aren't killing all but one penalty over a series (and the Canucks' power play clicked on 21 percent in the regular season and 25 percent so far in the playoffs), an offensive breakout from a Bolland, Brouwer, Versteeg..or how about even Andrew Ladd?..would be a huge shot in the arm. Vancouver worked to add depth in the off-season so up to three lines could be dangerous. The Hawks already had it, to the point where all four could be legit threats. Dustin Byfuglien was their "X" Man in the series a year ago - not necessarily from a statistical standpoint, but setting a tone and message, and being a headache. Now he's back on a "fourth" line with Brouwer and John Madden. Wasn't it just two weeks ago that a fourth line including Colin Fraser and Ben Eager really carried this team into the post-season?

Luongo's post-Olympic performance included seeing five of 14 shots get past him in just 20 minutes at the United Center on March 5th. Since winning gold for Canada on his home sheet and telling Kane he wanted to see him in the playoffs again, his goals-against average was above 3, and his save percentage below .900. Things didn't seem to be going much better through less than four full games (including an early exit and two partial overtime periods) against the Kings. But do you look at the 13 shots that got past him in that time, or the fact nine were power play goals? Or both? He tightened up to help the 'Nucks close it out, allowing only a pair each in Games Five and Six. Is he back on track - just in time for this rematch that he and all of his teammates have been obsessed with over the past year?

I've used the phrase before this season; Things Change. And quickly. For the Hawks, just go back to last Saturday's game. Or Monday's first period.

Both of these teams are legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. The one that doesn't find the 'Next Level' is going to be awfully heartbroken in less than two weeks. The only certainty is it'll be fun, and tense, in between.

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Minnesota Wild tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Road warriors.

The Blackhawks have won six straight games away from the United Center, and are looking to make it a seventh in Minnesota tonight. They've scored the game's first goal in four of those wins, and in the other two, overcame 1-0 deficits to beat Dallas 5-3 and Edmonton 5-1, the latter of which they scored five unanswered goals.

2. Corey Crawford vs. Devan Dubnyk.

Crawford hasn't quite been the same since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on Dec. 3, but he turned in probably his best outing since then in the Blackhawks' last meeting against Minnesota on Feb. 8 when he stopped 35 of 38 shots in a 4-3 overtime win. He essentially stole two points, and prevented the Wild from picking up the extra one. Across from him tonight will be Dubnyk, who leads the league in wins (32), goals against average (1.97) and save percentage (.934).

3. Jonathan Toews on fire.

After a tough offensive drought earlier in the season that lasted longer than expected, the Blackhawks captain has six goals and 10 assists in his last 12 games, and upped his point total to 37, which now ranks fifth on the team. In the last meeting against Minnesota two weeks ago, Toews had a three-point night and scored the game winner in overtime. 

4. Mikael Granlund among league's most underrated players.

File Granlund under the category of players who don't get enough attention. He has 17 goals and 36 assists in 58 games this season, and his 53 points is tied with Jeff Carter and Artemi Panarin for 13th in the NHL's scoring race. The next highest point total on the Wild is Eric Staal with 45, an eight-point gap between him and Granlund. The 24-year-old forward registered his first career hat trick earlier this month, and also had a 12-game point streak just two weeks ago.

5. Ryan Hartman's closing in on 15 goals.

In Saturday's 3-1 loss to Edmonton, Hartman defended his teammate by fighting an Oilers defenseman that was practically twice his size. He called it a "no-brainer" to stick up for Tanner Kero and did well in the scrap, but it led to an Oilers power play and 10-minute misconduct which didn't do the Blackhawks any favors. He responded in a great way Sunday by scoring the game's first goal that helped his team win 5-1 in Buffalo. The next goal he scores will be No. 15, which would give the Blackhawks six 15-plus goal scorers on the year. They had only four a season ago.

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks battle Wild on CSN; UIC hosts Green Bay on CSN+

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks battle Wild on CSN; UIC hosts Green Bay on CSN+

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks clash with Wild tonight on CSN

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