No NHL playoff team has had more postseason success than the Chicago Blackhawks in the last seven years, winning two championships and reaching the conference finals four times. After getting a victory in the opener of their first-round series with the Nashville Predators, Chicago continues to look like the favorite in the Western Conference to reach the Stanley Cup finals.
The Blackhawks came from behind to win in Nashville on Wednesday night, recovering from 3-0 first-period deficit. Goaltender Corey Crawford was sent to the bench after the first period, and backup goalie Scott Darling was perfect through the second overtime, saving all 42 shots that came his way. Duncan Keith ended the game with a goal nearly eight minutes into the second extra session.
Chicago's championship betting odds (11/2) are second only to the New York Rangers. The Blackhawks weren’t close to being the best team in the regular season, totaling 102 points and finishing with the fourth-best mark in the conference. But each year this group of players has a chance to win the title, and this season should be no different. The NHL has the most unpredictable postseason of the four major sports, but Chicago has managed to go deep into the playoffs on a consistent basis.
Not having home-ice advantage shouldn’t be much of a problem for the Blackhawks. They won 24 regular-season games on the road, matching their 24 home-victories. Only the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers had more road wins in the entire league.
Earning a No.3 seed in the Western Conference is impressive, considering the blow Chicago was dealt on Feb. 24. Patrick Kane suffered a fractured left clavicle, keeping him out for the remainder of the season. Prior to getting injured, Kane was tied for the NHL lead with 64 points, and his 27 goals and 37 assists were both the most on the roster. Returning in Game 1, Kane didn’t miss a beat, recording two assists in Chicago’s victory.
Now that the Blackhawks are healthy, they are certainly good enough to win their third title in six seasons. While the team struggled at times to score goals, their defense has remained among the best in hockey. Only the Montreal Canadiens allowed fewer goals this season. Despite his Game 1 struggles, Crawford ranked sixth in the NHL with a 92.4 save percentage.
Heading into the playoffs, Chicago wasn’t playing their best hockey, losing four games in a row. But the slate has been wiped clean in the postseason, and they could be on their way to another trip to the finals.
In order to get through the West, Chicago will have to get past a few difficult teams. Both the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks led the West with 109 points. The Vancouver Canucks and Minnesota Wild also reached the 100-point mark.
No team in the West, though, has been incredibly dominant. Last year, four teams in the conference totaled more than 109 points. Even then, none of them reached the conference finals.
Prediction: Chicago has been in this position before, and ended the season on top. They have the scoring, defenders, goaltending and experience necessary to win the Stanley Cup. While they might get stopped by the Rangers or another team that manages to get hot in the East, it’d be difficult to go against the Blackhawks to come out of the West. There's a strong chance they will hoist Lord Stanley's Cup in June.