Regular season series: Blackhawks won, 4-0
Nov. 9:Flames 1 at Blackhawks 6Dec. 19:at Flames 2, Blackhawks 3 (OT)Jan. 4:Flames 2 at Blackhawks 5Feb. 5:at Flames 2, Blackhawks 5
The Skinny: Typically, the four-five series sets up to be the most competitive in each conference. So why does this one have the look of a blowout? Simple: the Flames are about as healthy as the economy.
On paper, Calgary's veteran experience should give it an edge over a Hawks team that will rely heavily on playoff first-timers like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. The problem is, the core of Calgary's blueline is more likely to be wearing hospital gowns than the flaming C. Dion Phaneuf will play, but his physical edge -- the one element of his game uncompromised during this frustrating season -- could be hampered by a hip problem that required an MRI on Tuesday. Robyn Regehr (knee) and Cory Sarich (ankle) are likely out for the series. Mark Giordano is gone for the season. Look, when you're calling up Anders Eriksson to patch up the blueline, you're not far removed from a P.A. announcement asking if anyone in the crowd brought their equipment.
What the Hawks lack in battle scars -- they have just one forward, Sami Pahlsson, over the age of 30 -- they make up with speed, finesse and confidence around the net. In the four games played between the teams this year, six different Hawks scored at least twice.
While the focus will be on the kids up front, Chicago's key advantage is in net. To paraphrase the great Denis Lemieux, who ownz da Flames? That would be Nikolai Khabibulin. The Hawks' stopper has a career record of 22-5-2 against Calgary, and that's not including his victory over the Flames in the 2004 Stanley Cup Final.
Flames fans are left hoping that four days' rest has revitalized Miikka Kiprusoff. He may have led the league in wins, but a heavy workload clearly wore on him. His other numbers (2.84 GAA, .903 save pct.) suggest a goalie ready to be exploited.
Spotlight's On: Olli Jokinen. At the time, the deal that brought Jokinen to Calgary looked like the most significant move at the deadline. Now, the Flames are feeling the same buyer's remorse that prompted the Coyotes to dump him. After scoring eight goals in his first six games with his new team, Jokinen finished the season goalless in 13. If he wants his first career taste of playoff action to last more than four games, he has to rediscover his touch.
X-Factor for Blackhawks: Patrick Sharp. It's been a rough second half for Chicago's leading sniper of last season. First, there was the left knee sprain that cost him 16 games. A month after his return, he damaged his right knee in a collision with Nashville's Pekka Rinne that cost him the final five games of the season. Sharp has been skating on his own, but his availability for the opener in remains in doubt.
X-Factor for Flames: Rene Bourque. The former Hawk was in the midst of his best offensive season (21-19-40 in 51 games) when he was sidelined with a high ankle sprain back in February. But it might have been his standing as the team's best defensive forward that made his two-month absence so painful for the Flames. After skating for the first time on Monday, he's set for a return to action in the opener. Mike Keenan had him penciled in alongside Jarome Iginla and Jokinen. He might be just the spark they need.
The Pick: Blackhawks in five
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