The Chicago Blackhawks have been to the Western Conference final in three straight seasons, but the Anaheim Ducks have been dismantling opponents this post-season and have home ice advantage. It’ll be a battle of dynamic duos as Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry take on Chicago’s Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
WHAT WE LEARNED IN ROUND 2:
ANAHEIM: Calgary showed a flicker of hope in the second round, but Anaheim was too much of everything – they were too deep, too strong and too good for the Flames. And while it was a good measuring stick for the Flames, it shows that the Ducks have every right to be coming out of the Pacific Division. For a team that barely led in the series against Winnipeg, Anaheim dominated most of the play from start to finish against Calgary. It’s starting to look like Matt Beleskey’s regular season in which he notched 22 goals wasn’t much of a fluke.
CHICAGO: The Blackhawks won by the skin of their teeth, from an offensive explosion, thanks to goaltender Corey Crawford and by barely hanging on to a late lead. Literally, all Chicago did in Round 2 was win. And they did it against a team that many expected to give the Blackhawks at least a bit of trouble. Jonathan Toews played spectacularly in a shutdown roll against Zach Parise and they found depth scoring when they needed it most in a tight Game 1. If there’s anything we learned in Round 2 about the Blackhawks it’s that they’re still just as much a threat as they’ve always been.
MVP SO FAR:
ANAHEIM: It couldn’t be anyone but Corey Perry. Perry has shown time and time again that his name belongs among the elite scorers in the league, and his playoff performance this season is one of the most impressive in recent memory. In nine games, Perry has seven goals and 15 points while dominating in possession over that time. Over the course of the post-season, he’s registered nearly five shots on goal per game. The Blackhawks will talk about shutting him down. Doing so will be another matter altogether.
CHICAGO: Jonathan Toews came up big in the first round, but the Blackhawks MVP so far is Patrick Kane, almost entirely because of his play in the second round. In the first round, Kane was impressive and contributed seven points through the six-game series, but he was on another level in the second-round the Wild. In four games against Minnesota, Kane buried five goals, including two game-winning markers, one of which was the only goal in Chicago’s 1-0 Game 3 victory over the Wild.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
ANAHEIM: 1. Coming into the post-season, Frederik Andersen’s .920 5-on-5 save percentage was a slight cause for concern, but if there were any doubters, he has silenced them through two rounds. That said, he hasn’t faced a team with as much firepower as the Blackhawks and the Ducks definitely haven’t played a team with the ability to control possession as well as Chicago. If Anaheim gets under duress, Andersen is going to be key to settling things down. 2. Corey Perry is going to be key when it comes to lighting the lamp, but Ryan Kesler will be the Duck with the biggest impact on shutting down the Blackhawks. Kesler, who had his fair share of run-ins with Chicago during his time as a Vancouver Canuck, has defended Toews and Kane before, and if he can do a good job of it in the Western Conference final, the Ducks should be seeing the Stanley Cup final. 3. Anaheim’s depth players came to play in the first round with Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano playing big parts in the Ducks first-round sweep of the Winnipeg Jets. They’re going to need to do it again in the Western Conference final. Against Calgary, Silfverberg was quiet until the series’ final two games and Cogliano only found the score sheet once – a goal in Game 4 – in the entire series.
CHICAGO: 1. In the immediate future, the question will be whether or not the rest helped or hurt the Blackhawks. They defeated the Wild seven days ago and have been waiting since then for their series to start. Sometimes teams believe that taking the extra days off can kill your momentum. That wasn’t the case for the Ducks who rolled through the Flames in five games in Round 2 after a first-round sweep of the Jets, but the Blackhawks don’t have a favorable record in the first road game of playoff series. 2. Jonathan Toews’ ability to shut down Zach Parise against the Wild was incredible. He’ll have a tougher task when facing off against Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, but Toews has a penchant for stepping up when called upon. If Toews can’t contain the Ducks’ dynamic duo, there’s little chance the Blackhawks escape the series, which would mean a second straight season of falling in the Western Conference final. 3. It feels like forever ago that Corey Crawford was being yanked from Game 1 against the Predators and shelled in Game 2. Since then, Crawford took the crease back from Scott Darling, rattled off five straight victories and has recovered big time. In the second round, no goaltender was better than Crawford, who posted a 5-on-5 SP of .973 and allowed only three goals against on 111 shots at 5-on-5. In total, he let only seven goals in during the second round after getting blasted for nine in just 128:44 of work in the first round. Crawford needs to play his absolute best if Chicago has any chance of moving on.
WHAT THE STATS SAY by Dominik Luszczyszyn:
ANAHEIM: The Ducks have been the most impressive team in the playoffs so far, but it’s important to note that they’ve had the easiest path of the remaining four teams. They’re the top team left in almost every category and that shouldn’t be ignored despite their opponents. The scariest part is that they’ve been both lucky and good. They’re generating or suppressing a high amount of shots while converting or stopping them at a high rate, which has led to an almost unbelievable goal differential. Chicago will be their first real challenge in these playoffs, but if the Ducks continue playing the way they have been they can flip the script on a Blackhawks team that dominated them during the regular season.
CHICAGO: One good sign for the Blackhawks is that their shooting percentage is back up to where it should be after a very unlucky season for the majority of the team. With that out of the way, the Blackhawks still need to fix their biggest problem this season, which has been shot suppression. They’re allowing three more attempts per 60 minutes than they did during the regular season and have needed Corey Crawford to stand on his head to mitigate that. It’s unlikely the Hawks will continue to get .941 goaltending at 5-on-5 so it’s especially important they limit the Ducks chances in this series.
KEY MATCHUP by Dominik Luszczyszyn:
Patrick Kane and Corey Perry are the two best right wingers in the game, but they do it in different ways. Kane is silky smooth as he weaves around defenders while Perry likes to find the shortest route to the net possible. Both methods clearly work very well for them and while they may play different styles, they get similar on-ice results. Neither were strong possession players this season, but they made up for it in the goals department and are elite point-getters in the league. That hasn’t changed in the playoffs where both are leading their teams in scoring and have arguably been the biggest factors for their success so far.
PREDICTION: Blackhawks in six.