By Daniel I. Dorfman–
There should always be hope at the top of a playoff run, but there should always be realism. For both United Center tenants, optimism abounds for their respective postseason runs, but Rahm Emanuel does not need to be planning June victory parades quite yet.
It’s amazing how much Chicago’s playoff world has changed in one year. At this time in 2010, Vinny Del Negro was in his final days as Bulls coach as his team challenged the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games, which was one more game than most expected that series to last. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks embarked on their anticipated and successful run to their first Stanley Cup Championship in 49 years.
The situation is reversed this year. The Bulls are poised to make their biggest splash in the post-season since 1998, and the Blackhawks only made the playoffs because the Dallas Stars choked against the Minnesota Wild.
At least locally, there seems to be some thought that the Hawks can capitalize on their lucky break and upend the Canucks. Surely, there are some reasons to be optimistic for an upset, including Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo’s spotty history against the ‘Hawks, the ‘Hawks having nothing to lose and NHL history which has seen eight seeds beat the top seeds, including last year when Montreal did that trick to Washington in the Eastern
But logic dictates the Canucks will exorcise the ghosts of their recent playoff past and get rid of the Blackhawks. Almost at the drop of a hat, or in this case a puck, the ‘Hawks would have to turn around a season marked by inconsistency. To do that, they will have to get better play from defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on defense and hope rookie Corey Crawford will not be overwhelmed in his initial playoff run. At the same time, for a third straight season, the ‘Hawks will to contain the Sedin twins, especially during the power play. That would be a quite a switch from a regular season where the ‘Hawks only ranked 25th on the penalty kill as opposed to Vancouver, who ranked second in that category.
Then there is the revenge factor given the last two years ending in frustration for the Canucks. “When you put that jersey on instant hate comes into this room,” defenseman Kevin Bieksa told the Vancouver Sun. “It’s a team we want to beat badly.”
Like the Bulls in 1991 against the Detroit Pistons, there is a foreboding sense the Canucks just might do what they have to do this year.
Speaking of the Bulls, this marvelous regular season concludes tonight. Sometime this weekend against the Indiana Pacers, the playoffs will begin with expectations are rising higher than Mel Kiper’s hair. But there still needs to be some major caution with the Bulls. This is not the team of Phil Jackson, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, who at the end of the day knew how to win. As great as Tom Thibodeau and Derrick Rose have been, it is still asking a lot to expect them to make a run to June.
Traditionally, teams with young coaches and a corps of young players in the NBA have not been able to make that leap all the way to the Finals without getting bruised on the way there. While no one should expect the Pacers to present much of a challenge, a potential matchup with Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the second round could still be troublesome. Remember how they knocked out Cleveland in the second round two years ago? And as has been said many times, the Miami Heat may be annoying and the Boston Celtics are long in the tooth, but one of them will have to be beat. The pressure of an Eastern Conference Final matchup will be something totally different and no one can know for sure how the Bulls will handle it in juxtaposition to the veterans that dot the Miami and Boston roster. Veteran savvy does not automatically lead to playoff victories, but it is better to have than not.
So Wednesday night we start a spring playoff season that could potentially last as long as two months. Just don’t bank on that.
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Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.