After a considerable amount of time off, nine days for Chicago and six for Anaheim, the teams will finally drop the puck on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
And the fight card isn’t so bad: Kane and Toews versus Getzlaf and Perry. (What’s the Eastern Conference Final got in comparison to that? #westcoastbias)
So what’s it going to take for either team to win the series? Here’s a look at three crucial items for each club that should considered as they battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup. Oops. I forgot they have to play a “series” against a team from the East before getting the trophy.
1. The health of Corey Perry will test Ducks depth at forward.
Corey Perry is like a zombie; he just won’t go away. The perfect example of this came in Game 5 against Calgary when the Ducks winger seemingly had his knee bend in a way it’s not supposed to; only to leave the ice and re-emerge to score the series clinching goal in overtime. It’s remarkable he was able to get in a position to score that goal. After he returned, he was less mobile. For a guy whose already not too great of a skater, his agility was even worse.
The playoffs are known for their rampant nondisclosure of injuries. Ryan Getzlaf seems to have forgotten this. When doing a radio interview with KROQ’s Kevin & Bean, Getzlaf remarked on Perry’s sensitivity regarding his knee. To paraphrase Getzlaf, his BFF gets anxious whenever his knee takes any sort of contact. That’s important information that will be useful to the Blackhawks.
In the practices since ending the series, Perry has been held off the ice for a litany of vague reasons. Bruce Boudreau wouldn’t commit to saying it (because it’s the playoffs), but in all likelihood Perry will be in the lineup for Game 1.
OK, he’s going to be there, but how much of an impact is he really going to have? He’s the leading scorer not just for the Ducks, but overall in the playoffs, too. If he can’t go, or even goes at half-speed, can the Ducks depth really step up and produce?
A majority of Anaheim’s scoring has come from the top two lines. Yet, the bottom two are severely lacking in the points department. The defense has stepped up and scored more total points (29) than the bottom two lines combined (10). It’s nice to have a high scoring defense, but the shininess wears off when one realizes the players on the ice specifically for offense aren’t doing their job.
As a comparison, Chicago’s third and fourth lines (not including oft-scratched Kris Versteeg) have combined for 21 points and their defense (without injured Michal Roszival) has contributed 21 points, as well.
2. Stopping Patrick Kane.
During Round 2, someone likened Johnny Gaudreau to a young (far more timid) Patrick Kane. You wouldn’t have believed it after Game 1 against the Ducks, but little Johnny proceeded to give Anaheim fits throughout the remainder of the series. So now the Ducks are going up against the actual Patrick Kane, one who is apparently made of Adamantium and has Wolvertine-esque healing powers.
Seeing as Kane is pretty much back to pre-collarbone injury form, the Ducks have the very difficult task of attempting to stop him. In 29 career games against the Ducks, Kane has 23 points total with 11 of those points coming on the power play. Currently, he leads the Blackhawks with 13 points in the playoffs; 5 points have come via the power play.
The Ducks will have to hit him every chance they get, but they have to be smart about it. They can’t go out of their way to try to take him out. He is fast and has magical hands. He can scoot out of the way of oncoming checks and make a break for the net, and chasing him around will allow the rest of his teammates to take advantage of the open space and just wait for Kane to make the fantastic play.
3. Goaltending will be a factor, if Bruce over-thinks it.
Frederik Andersen’s statistics are fantastic with an 8-1 record, 1.96 goals-against average, and .925 save-percentage. All credit due to Winnipeg and Calgary for putting up a fight, but the Ducks goaltender hasn’t faced nearly as much talent as he’s about to in this playoff year.
Unless a meteor hits Anaheim (knock on wood), it’s almost certain that Andersen will start Game 1 against Chicago. This will be the goalie’s third ever start against the team. Anderson faced the Blackahwks twice during the regular season, losing both games and giving up seven goals in total.
Sitting on the bench for the last two games has been American Hero John Gibson. Gibson is said to be back to good health after missing the entire Winnipeg series and the first three games of the Calgary series with an injury and the flu. After the Ducks Game 4 loss to Calgary, Bruce Boudreau alluded to the fact he was close to pulling Andersen in favor of Gibson after a couple goals against.
Why is that important? With Jason LaBarbera backing up Andersen, Bruce would only consider pulling his starter in an extreme situation. Gibson gives BB a false sense of security. As much as the kid has shown flashes of brilliance this past season, he’s not ready for primetime against Chicago, especially considering his last start was April 3. It could be like the playoff meltdown against Los Angeles all over again.
This is Freddie’s net. Period.
1. Rolling three scoring lines against reconstructed Ducks defense.
You might not find a better Top 9 in the league than that of the Blackhawks. Upfront they’ve got Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Brandon Saad. If that wasn’t good enough, they follow it up with Patrick Kane, a better-ish Brad Richards, and Bryan Bickell. Rounding out the group, Patrick Sharp goes to the third line with Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen. All together, the three lines have 22 of 32 playoff goals scored by Chicago.
Each line carries at least one career Duck hunter: Kane (23pts, 29 GP), Toews (20pts, 26 GP), Hossa (28pts, 34 GP), Richards (25pts, 29 GP), and Sharp (29pts, 30 GP). Sharp – the best of them all – is on the third line. The relief comes in the rare instances where Joel Quenneville allows his fourth line to get some early minutes before they do something ridiculous and get benched.
Boudreau can put his forward lines in a blender to match up all he wants, but it’s going to come down to the D; a group that was shaken up big time at the trade deadline.
The Ducks defense has been solid, but it hasn’t been completely reliable. According to War-On-Ice, the Corsi-For ratings of the top two Anaheim d-pairs in the playoffs are not too shabby 5-on-5: Francois Beauchemin (58.03), Hampus Lindholm (58.99), Simon Despres (55.81), and Cam Fowler (54.51). Then there is the final pairing. Sami Vatanen is an offensive defenseman in every sense of the term. He’s the highest scoring defenseman with 7 points and one of the lowest CF% at 48.45. Right behind him is Clayton Stoner at 48.44. Stoner is the liability the ‘Hawks will take advantage of.
2. Outcome on special teams will have major implications.
In the playoffs, the Blackhawks have been very un-Blackhawks-like on special teams, and conversely, the Ducks are better than expected (at least based on their regular season totals).
On the power play, Chicago has a 20-percent conversion rate on 25 total opportunities. The glaring spot for the team is their power play at home. They’re converting at 9.1-percent. On the road, it’s considerably better at 28.6-percent. However, the Ducks home penalty kill is going off at an astronomical 94.1-percent, allowing only 1 goal in 17 times shorthanded.
Things even out a bit more with the Blackhawks 72.7-percent penalty kill. At home they have a 69.2-percent success rate to counter the Ducks weak road power play of 20-percent. Chicago has been better killing penalties on the road at 75-percent, which is good because Anaheim has a 36.8-percent power play at home.
Toews and Hossa have scored Chicago’s only shorthanded goals. Anaheim hasn’t scored a shorty, but has allowed one.
3. Beware of third period letdown.
This season Blackhawks are 30-0 when leading after two periods. Against most teams, that’s a terrifying statistic; however, the Ducks possess one of the best comeback records. In the playoffs alone, they’ve trailed after two periods in four games and won them all.
In terms of goals for and goals against in the playoffs, third periods have not been kind to the Blackhawks.
In their 10 games, they’ve given up 10 goals and scored 7 in the third. It doesn’t seem like much, but compare it to that of the team they’re going to face. Anaheim has scored 16 goals and only given up 3 goals in the third in 9 games played.
All season the Ducks have coasted on their ability to come back or win by a single goal. That mentality will not lead to success against the Blackhawks. If Anaheim wants to win, they have to score early and keep the lead. If the Blackhawks want to win, they can’t rely on playing defense alone in the third in order to not lose the lead.
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