With the exciting but not-so-surprising finish to the Avalanche/Wild series, we can now look towards round 2 and the challenge the Blackhawks face. First and foremost, the Wild’s win now means the Blackhawks have home-ice in Round 2. While I think this is an important factor, it doesn’t change anything about how I believe this series could go. (I say “could” here instead of “will” because it is too hard to accurately predict playoff series outcomes. There is just too much random variation to make consistently correct picks.)
Looking beyond the home-ice advantage, I believe the Hawks have the edge in almost every other facet of the series and don’t view this series anything near as difficult as Round 1 was for the Blackhawks.
Possession-wise this series isn’t close. In 5on5 score close situations, The Blackhawks had a FF% of 55.2% during the regular season, while the Wild had a mediocre rate of 48.6%*. The Blackhawks dominated possession all season long, and I don’t see any reason why this won’t continue in Round 2.
Now, you would come to a different conclusion if you look at numbers from Round 1. The Wild had a FF% of 61.3% against a woeful possession team in the Avalanche while the Blackhawks had an uncharacteristic 48.0% FF%. There are a few reasons to not use these numbers in a predictive fashion. First off, as I have stated previously, the sample size of the playoffs is too small to have any predictive value. The next issue deals with the quality of competition each team played. The Wild dominated possession and have left many people in Chicago worrying about the next challenge for the Hawks. Unfortunately for Minnesota, they dominated an Avs team that overperformed all season long while relying on unsustainable goaltending and luck. The Avs ranked 27th in the league with a FF% of 46.8%. On the other hand, the Blackhawks faced a Blues team that ranked 7th in the league with a FF% of 53.1%.
Segmenting down from a team view, the Blackhawks have the advantage when it comes to evaluating player possession as well. Of players with 62 or more games played during the regular the season, the Wild have 6 players with FF% above 50% while the Blackhawks have 15 players with FF% above 50% (includes Brandon Bollig’s 51.6 FF%, cripes).
Assuming the Blackhawks have the possession advantage, the next area to analyze is goaltending. This could be considered the biggest “weakness” of the Blackhawks. I say that hesitantly as I think Crawford is a good but not great goalie who does everything a strong possession team like the Hawks need. He had a .927 5on5 save percentage during the regular season; a respectable number. Conversely, the Wild have had goaltending issues all year due to injury but have managed to fight through them due to a deeper than average goaltending depth chart and Ilya Bryzgalov. Darcy Kuemper and Ilya Bryzgalov, the potential starters for Round 2 depending on Darcy Kuemper’s injury, had .934 and .928 5on5 save percentages respectively. Darcy Kuemper has the best numbers of these three goalies but only played in 26 games while facing 558 shots total; a sample size too small to have strong predictive value. Simply put, Kuemper and/or Bryzgalov are going to have to put up great numbers if the Wild are going to have any chance. On the other hand, if Crawford plays like he did in games 2 through 6 of Round 2, the Hawks should have a relatively easy series.
Overall, I could get more granular with the stats and reasons why I believe the Hawks will win this series, but I feel the top-level numbers are enough to show why the Hawks should be viewed as heavy favorites. I believe the first round matchup against the Blues was much tougher than people think. It was pretty much a conference semifinal series. If the Blackhawks and Wild play like the teams they were in the regular season, I see the Hawks winning this series in five or six games. And I see no reason to believe why that wouldn’t be the case.
*All numbers are from the great extraskater.com and are at 5on5 score close unless otherwise stated.