Before I get into my own analysis of the Flames first round opponent, make sure to check out the guys we'll be fighting with during the next couple of weeks over at Second City Hockey. They obviously know more about the Hawks than I do.
Before the first round begins on Thursday, I plan to publish a "preview series", focusing on both the Flames and Blackhawks. This initial post will be a bit of an overview.
Why the Flames should be worried...
On the face of it, there probably couldn't be a worse first round match-up for the Flames than the Chicago Blackhawks. Of every team they played at least four times this season, Calgary had the worst record against CHI: 0-3-1, outscored 19-7. Jarome Iginla scored three assists and was a cumulative -9 gainst the Hawks this year. Yeah.
Of course, that's not all. Nikolai Khabibulin is to the Flames what Iginla typically is to the Wild. Dude has been Calgary's nemesis for years. He's something like 157-2-1 (only a slight exaggeration) versus Calgary all time and he as undefeated versus the Flames this season, allowing just 6 goals against in three appearances. In the lone game that was close (3-2 OTL), Khabibulin was the primary reason the Hawks won. On the other hand, Kipper was regularly lit up by CHI: 4 games played (pulled once), 17 goals against, 4.66 GAA.
On top of all that, Chicago is a quality club. It's no fluke the Hawks managed to humiliate Calgary on more than one occassion this season. At the start of the year the Blackhawks were doing it with bounces, but that's not really the case come season's end. They finished +655 in terms of corsi and their ES SH% was actually marginally below average (7.9%). Their goaltending has been superb (.923 SV%), but Im sure that has something to do with having $12M commited to the crease. Their resultant PDO of 100.2 is right in line with the NHL mean...
CHI has better goaltending, scored 10 more goals than the Flames and had a +48 GD.There's just no obvious weaknesses here.
For the third straight season, I think it's safe to say that Calgary is a first round underdog.