The Blackhawks' captain has a penchant for big games. His 33 points in 29 career playoff games may not fly off the page, but how's this for a stat: when his team can eliminate its opponent, Toews has scored 4-4-8 in six career games. He also kills San Jose, scoring 7-6-13 in 10 career games, more goals and points per game than against any other Western Conference team. And, given that he's the leading scorer in the playoffs right now with 20 points from 12 games, that probably means good things to come.
9. The second lines are good.
Yes the forward group that's technically San Jose's second line has been its best, with Joe Pavelski(notes), Devon Setoguchi and Ryane Clowe(notes) getting strong minutes, big goals and outshooting their opponents significantly. But Chicago's second line of Marian Hossa(notes), Patrick Sharp(notes) and whomever (most recently Troy Brouwer(notes)) has been very good as well. They are bossing around their competition and outshooting them significantly. If the difference in this series, as it often does, comes down to depth, then this will be the battle to watch.
8. Getting off to a good start is not necessarily important.
Chicago has 13 first-period goals in the playoffs, tied for third. San Jose has nine, tied for sixth. Not great numbers. Even worse when you consider they've allowed 13 and 11 in the first, respectively. But it's a formula that's worked for them. San Jose and Chicago have combined to take seven leads into the first intermission, and are 7-0 in those games.
7. Everyone's healthy (well except that one guy).
Apart from the Blackhawks' Kim Johnsson(notes), who has been out since March 15 with a concussion, everyone on both teams is going to play. (Unless you're like Brouwer and miss several games behind a healthy scratch, that is.) So unlike SOME TEAMS I COULD MENTION there will not be a lot of boo-hoo-hooing about all the players that would have made a gigantic difference had they not been out since December with a shattered pelvis.
6. Chicago is very serious.
There was an article on the team's website in which the Blackhawks stated there would be no fun-having of any kind on this road trip. They "celebrated" with a bunch of video games after bouncing Vancouver - everyone except Adam Burish(notes), who just strummed his guitar because he hates nerds - but there will be none of that this time around. I presume they'll all just sit in a dimly-lit room and think about scoring goals. If you were hoping for more shirtless limo pictures, I guess you're out of luck.
Jumbo Joe has a lot of practice at underperforming in the first two rounds of the playoffs, so he thought he'd give playing like a colossus a whirl. It worked out pretty well, obviously, since he's got 11 points in as many games (never mind that minus-6 behind the curtain). But this is his first-ever appearance in a Conference Final and is thus completely uncharted territory. Much of this series will hinge on whether he gets even better after scoring 3-6-9 in his last six games, or folds up his tent like, well, Joe Thornton in the playoffs..
4. Hossa is playing in a Conference Final I don't believe it!
Want to make your team's conference final? Sign Marian Hossa. He kind of has a thing for that. This is his third in a row (he previously played for Pittsburgh and Detroit, obviously) and fourth of his career (the Senators made it in 2003). And the good news for Chicago is that Hossa plays very well in those games. In 17 career Conference Finals appearances, Hossa has six goals and 18 points. Even better, all six of those goals and 14 of those points have been in the last two seasons. The lesson here: cover Hossa.
3. The goaltending has been err, questionable.
Both Antti Niemi(notes) (8-4) and Evgeni Nabokov(notes) (8-3) have been largely successful in this postseason. But if you looked at their stats, you wouldn't know it. Niemi boasts 2.57 GAA (7th) and a .909 save percentage (8th) while Nabokov has a 2.43 GAA (5th) and a .907 save percentage (10th). They've both run a bit hot and cold as well, with Niemi at one point winning six of seven and Nabokov rattling off six wins in a row. With both teams averaging 32 or more shots a game, a lot is going to come down to which goalie can put together a run of not-terrible games.
2. Both teams need to exorcise the demons.
Obviously the winner of this series goes to the Stanley Cup Final, which is a big deal. But it wouldn't be the same kind of big deal as if they were, say, the Red Wings or Penguins. These teams simply don't go every year. San Jose has never been to a Stanley Cup final. Chicago hasn't been since 1992, when Patrick Kane(notes) was three years old. Both teams could really stand to lose their "loser" personas.
1. The prediction: Blackhawks in 6.
Even without the new NHL rule that Marian Hossa must play in all Stanley Cup Finals, it's tough to pick against the Blackhawks. The Sharks might be shaking their reputation for hilariously flaming out in the playoffs, but their best players (Thornton, Marleau, Heatley) aren't playing like their best players. They have eight combined goals between them, and Patrick Kane has seven by himself. Hell, Dustin Byfuglien(notes) has more goals than any of the Sharks' big three. Plus Chicago was in this series last year, and experience is just as important as star power at this stage.
Sunday, May 16 3 p.m.: Chicago at San Jose NBC, TSN, RDS
Tuesday, May 18 10 p.m.: Chicago at San Jose VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Friday, May 21 8 p.m.: San Jose at Chicago VERSUS, TSN, RDS
Sunday, May 23 3 p.m.: San Jose at Chicago NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 25* 9 p.m.: Chicago at San Jose VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Thursday, May 27* 8 p.m.: San Jose at Chicago VERSUS, CBC, RDS
Saturday, May 29* 8 p.m.: Chicago at San Jose VERSUS, CBC, RDS