Blackhawks can open season strong against Minnesota

By Sam Bauman

The NHL’s best regular season team, the Blackhawks, will open up the postseason against the revamped Minnesota Wild.

The Wild signed forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter and were the last team in the conference to make the playoffs. Barring significant injuries to star players or the goaltenders, the Blackhawks should easily defeat the Wild.

Starting with the forwards, the Wild are clearly overmatched. The Wild need to rely on their top six forwards for point production. Further complicating matters for the Wild is the fact that star winger Dany Heatley is out for the season with a left shoulder injury. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have significant point production from their top three lines. Even though Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp have struggled through injuries this season, they both appear healthy and ready to go in the playoffs, giving the Blackhawks a distinct advantage in the offensive department.

The defense offers another advantage for the Blackhawks. The Wild have two very quality defensemen in Suter and Jonas Brodin, but the rest of the defense is average at best. The Wild finished in the middle of the league in goals allowed, tied at 15th. The Blackhawks have quality from their entire defense as exhibited by their league-best goals against average. The improvements of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Nick Leddy have helped the defense, and it is hard to see the Wild being better defensively than the Blackhawks.

Goaltending will most likely be the closest aspect between the two teams in this series. Niklas Backstrom is the Wild’s starting goaltender, and their only viable option in net. The only worries for the Blackhawks are the performance of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery’s current injury. The two of them have shown the ability to be elite goaltenders this season. Crawford is a legitimate concern after his performance in last year’s playoffs. Last year, Crawford only won two games while giving up 2.58 goals against. Should Crawford falter again it would be no surprise to see Emery get the starting nod in goal. The only problem is Emery has missed the last few games with a lower body injury, which is made more concerning due to the fact his career almost ended because of a hip injury several seasons ago.

Assuming none of the Blackhawks’ star players are injured, it is hard to picture the Wild being able to pull off an upset in this series. The Wild are overmatched in every aspect of the game. I anticipate this series being done in no more than five games, and even then I can easily see this being a series sweep for the Blackhawks.