The Blackhawks' experience should carry them past the Ducks in an epic Western Conference Finals.
Oct. 28: Ducks 1, Blackhawks 0
Nov. 28: Blackhawks 4, Ducks 1
Jan. 30: Blackhawks 4, Ducks 1
Blackhawks: F Andrew Desjardins (day-to-day, illness); D Michal Rozsival (out for season, ankle)
Boasting size, skill and a dash of speed, the Ducks will pose a much different threat than what Chicago faced from the Predators and Wild. Anaheim’s top line has been a rampaging menace on the cycle, with Corey Perry leading the league in scoring (7-8-15), Ryan Getzlaf tops in assists (2-10-12) and Patrick Maroon (seven points) serving as the immovable object who makes life miserable for goaltenders. But as dominant as they’ve been the Ducks aren’t relying on those three players quite the way they used to. The addition of Ryan Kesler has profoundly altered the dynamic of Anaheim’s attack, giving the team the depth down the middle and the sandpapery defensive presence it has lacked in the past. Lining up with Jakob Silfverberg (11 points, sixth) and Matt Beleskey (goals in five straight to set a new club record), Kesler has generated the secondary scoring that helped Anaheim make short work of its first two opponents.
That’s a formidable top six, but Anaheim can’t quite match the depth of Chicago’s forwards. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane give the Hawks the 1-2 punch to counter Perry-Getzlaf. Amazing to think that Kane, who leads the team with seven goals and 13 points, was only now supposed to be coming back to the lineup after injuring his shoulder. Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad add size and finishing touch to the first line. Keep an eye on Patrick Sharp, who will skate on a third line with highly skilled rookie Teuvo Teravainen and veteran center Antoine Vermette. That trio will create matchup problems for the Ducks.
Going by the fancystats (more on those in a moment), Anaheim’s defense should have a huge edge. According to waronice.com, they’re allowing just 22.3 scoring chances per 60 minutes of even-strength play, third-fewest in the postseason. The Hawks, meanwhile, are giving up 25.
What’s that say about Anaheim’s low-wattage backline bunch? Since they’re not blocking shots (averaging less than six per game), it seems like they’re doing an excellent job of keeping the puck away from the opposition by limiting the effectiveness of its zone entries and by quickly countering in transition.
The Ducks rely heavily on three mobile puck movers on their back end: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, who’s been particularly strong this spring. All three are capable of leading the rush or slyly joining in as the trailer. That ability to expand the attack to four or even five skaters has a way of throwing the opposing defense into disarray and, if nothing else, keeping the puck 200 feet away from goalie Frederik Andersen. There’s risk involved, but their skating ability is the great equalizer. So is putting the puck into the net. As a group, they’ve combined for 26 points through two rounds.
Francois Beauchemin has been the Ducks’ leader on the backend, averaging better than 23 minutes a night, but he doesn’t bring the presence of Duncan Keith. The formidable general of Chicago’s blueline corps is a perennial Norris Trophy contender who brings an A-level game to all three zones. He’s seen a ton of ice in the playoffs, averaging 30:37 per night, six minutes more than Niklas Hjalmarsson, but that total could inch up in this series. Keith will skate alongside usual partner Brent Seabrook as well as David Rundblad, who is expected to fill in for the injured Michal Rozsival. Look for the stalwart Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya to handle shutdown duties against the Getzlaf line. Neither player has been particularly special to this point of the playoffs, but both boast a reserve of experience that comes from lining up against tough competition in the final four. That could make the difference.
The Ducks entered the postseason dogged by questions about their netminding. Frederik Andersen has put those to bed, going 8-1 with a 1.96 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage while allowing two goals or fewer in seven of his nine appearances. He’s proved that he can win whether he sees a lot of rubber or a little, in high-scoring thrillers or low-scoring nail-biters. He makes the saves he’s supposed to make, controls his rebounds and keeps things at an even keel. As a result, he’s been the calming influence on his teammates that he couldn’t be in his playoff debut last season.
The situation in Chicago appears to have settled down after Joel Quenneville played musical goalies in the first round. Corey Crawford was dynamite in the four-game sweep of the Wild, allowing just seven goals on 131 shots (a .947 save percentage) to re-stake his claim on the No. 1 job. He made a statement with that 30-save shutout in Game 3 in Minnesota, keeping his team in a contest where the Blackhawks were outshot, out-chanced and only afforded him one goal’s worth of support. It was reminiscent of the form he flashed while leading Chicago to the 2013 Stanley Cup. Again, that edge in experience can’t be overlooked.
Doesn’t matter how many men are on the ice—the Ducks are getting it done. They’re tops in the league in five-on-five goals for/against (1.69 to Chicago's third-ranked 1.21). They also boast the most dangerous power play at 31% after going 6 for 18 against the Flames, and have nine players who have scored multiple points with the extra man.
Anaheim’s penalty kill is a solid fifth at 87.1 percent. The Hawks meanwhile are a miserable 72.7% on the PK and 20% on the power play. Maybe they should start looking into the possibility of playing three-on-three ...
Anaheim has been the better possession team in the playoffs, out-attempting its opponents to the tune of 54.4%. The Hawks haven’t been bad at 51.7%, but it’s clear they’ll have to do better if they don’t want to spend most of their time chasing the puck.
Not surprisingly, the Ducks have also enjoyed the better shot differential, 7.2 to –4.2. If they can’t beat the Hawks with skill, they might be able to win with sheer volume.
Each side has a clear path to victory. For the Ducks, it’s defense and special teams. For the Blackhawks, offensive depth and goaltending. So, who wins? In this clash of titans, I’ll take experience as the tiebreaker. The Hawks have a big edge in postseason success. Since 2009, they’ve won 14 playoff series and two Stanley Cups. Thirteen members of this team wear a ring. The Ducks won the Cup in 2007, but only Getzlaf, Perry and Beauchemin are still on the roster. And since that milestone, Anaheim has won only four playoff series in seven years. This should be a good one, but I see Chicago stealing a game at the Honda Center. Blackhawks in 6.
|Game 1||Ducks 4, Blackhawks 1||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 2||Blackhawks 3, Ducks 2 (3OT)||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 3||Ducks 2, Blackhawks 1||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 4||Blackhawks 5, Ducks 4 (2OT)||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 5||Ducks 4, Blackhawks 2 (OT)||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 6||Blackhawks 5, Ducks 2||Recap||Highlights|
|Game 7||Blackhawks 5, Ducks 3||Recap||Highlights|