In the second of my three-part preview of the Chicago Blackhawks leading up to Game One of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday night in Chicago, today I will delve into the defensive unit in The Windy City. Chicago’s blue-liners are, by far, as good a group as the Flyers will have seen this entire postseason. They are young, they are quick, they are strong, and, most importantly, they are talented. So much so, in fact, that they most recently shut down the destructive attack of the San Jose Sharks, which, coming into last round’s Western Conference Final, looked like a team that had gotten over the hump offensively and was ready to turn the corner. It wasn’t meant to be and now this unit has their eyes set on the Orange and Black. It’ll be up to the Flyers to render them helpless and ineffective. And it won’t be easy.
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjarlmarsson – Brian Campbell
Brent Sopel – Jordan Hendry
Two defensemen to watch on the Blackhawks:
1. Duncan Keith. One of the best blue-liners in the game today, Keith is a defensive stalwart with the rare ability to be a huge offensive factor for his team as well. He gained notoriety with his play last season, and eventually played that into a spot on Team Canada at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games this past February. He’s as talented as they come on the blue line in the National Hockey League and that’s evidenced by the fact that he’s one of the finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the league’s top defenseman. His job in this series will be to shut down the Flyers’ top forwards (Richards, Gagne, Carter) and if past series (Sedin twins in VAN, Thornton, Heatley in SJ) are any indication, he should be more than up to the task. He plays an in-your-face style, hence why he lost seven teeth in the series clinching Game Four for Chicago against San Jose after taking a puck directly into the mouth. Despite the fact that he’ll be missing a boatload of teeth, don’t expect it to hamper his game. Keith’s been a big gun on the powerplay all season for Chicago, and has translated that into the playoffs, with three assists while up the extra man. #2 in a Blackhawks jersey is going to be someone that will be in the Flyers’ faces all series, and it’ll be up to the Orange and Black to meet the challenge or simply fade away like past opponents.
2. Brent Seabrook. Perhaps still a relative unknown as far as his skill-set is concerned, Seabrook has quietly become one of the best defensemen in the game today. He pairs with Norris Finalist Keith to form arguably the top tandem in the league, and he holds his own in the process. This postseason, Seabrook has three goals (leading all Chicago defensemen) and six assits for nine points. He’s a much more bruising presence on the ice than his buddy Keith, but he obviously has the capabilities to put the puck in the back of the net as well. A lot of people look at Brian Campbell as the second best defenseman in Chicago, and while I do understand their reasoning, I am convinced that Seabrook holds that spot. He was on Team Canada with Keith in Vancouver, and while many probably felt that he was there as a calming influence and familiar face to Duncan Keith, he certainly proved otherwise, turning in a tremendous performance and playing a big role en route to the Canadians snatching Gold. Now however, it’s all about the silver, and that being Lord Stanley.
Scoring Leaders for the Blackhawks’ Defense in the Stanley Cup Playoffs:
GOALS: Brent Seabrook (3)
ASSISTS: Duncan Keith (9)
POINTS: Keith (10)
PLUS/MINUS: Seabrook (+8)
PENALTY MINUTES: Keith (10)