Blackhawks

Blackhawks-Ducks: Who has edge in the Western Conference Final?

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Blackhawks-Ducks: Who has edge in the Western Conference Final?

You’re tired of waiting, we know. So are we. It’s been another long layoff between rounds for the Blackhawks, who will finally – finally – begin the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday afternoon.

This series promises to be a tough one – OK we said the same thing heading into the Wild-Blackhawks series but go with us again. The Ducks are strong and physical; the Blackhawks are fast and experienced. Both teams have their stars, their goal scorers. Both made quick work of their second-round foes.

So, who has the edge? We thought you’d never ask.

FORWARDS

The Ducks got a lot stronger up the middle this offseason when they acquired Ryan Kesler (the Blackhawks were in the mix, too). He’s been a point-a-game guy this postseason, and that includes four goals. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf are big scoring threats on the Ducks’ top line; Perry has 15 points (seven goals, eight assists) while Getzlaf has 12 (two goals, 10 assists). Matt Beleskey, who had a quiet first round, had five goals in as many games against the Calgary Flames.

[MORE HAWKS: Blackhawks ramp up practice ahead of Western Conference Final]

All questions about Patrick Kane’s rust/recovery off that fractured clavicle were answered emphatically in the second round. Kane had five goals against the Wild, almost as many as the Wild itself (seven goals, two of which came in the final 2 1/2 minutes of Game 4). Jonathan Toews has also been steady with 11 points (four goals, seven assists). Patrick Sharp has nine points. Marian Hossa may have just one goal thus far but he’s always a threat to do more and has seven assists. Both teams have their firepower. The Blackhawks, with guys like Sharp and Teuvo Teravainen on a third line, have more depth. EDGE: Blackhawks

DEFENSEMEN

Anaheim is solid in this department with Francois Beauchemin, Hampus Lindhom and Cam Fowler leading the way. The Ducks defensemen have added offense in the postseason, to (Beauchemin and Lindholm each have six points and Sami Vatanen has seven, including two goals).

The Blackhawks suffered a big loss when Michal Rozsival broke his left ankle in Game 4 against the Wild. Coach Joel Quenneville tinkered with defensive pairs on Thursday, pairing Duncan Keith (who is a plus-10 with 10 points, including two goals) with Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook with Johnny Oduya and Kimmo Timonen with David Rundblad. Quenneville said he just wanted to see his options but let’s state the obvious: the top four are going to get the brunt of the action. Normally you’d be concerned with the extra minutes but after nine days off, they should be ready for more. EDGE: Blackhawks

[MORE HAWKS: Full schedule of Blackhawks-Ducks Western Conference Final]

GOALTENDING

Frederik Andersen was strong for the Ducks, recording victories in eight of his nine starts with a 1.96 goals-against average and.925 save percentage. Corey Crawford got past his first-round yips and was much better in the second round, during which he stopped 124 of 131 shots. In deciding this one we ask the same question that we did entering the second round: which Crawford shows up this time? If it’s the regular season/second round Crawford, this will be quite the duel. EDGE: Ducks

POWER PLAY

The Ducks and Blackhawks are similar here for one reason: despite all their talent, their power plays were underachieving during the regular season. In the postseason, things have changed. The Blackhawks did pretty well despite limited chances in the second round (two goals on six power-play opportunities). That comes after three power-play goals on a myriad of chances (19) against Nashville. The Ducks’ power play, however, has really clicked in the playoffs, recording an NHL-playoff best nine goals on 29 opportunities (31 percent). EDGE: Ducks

PENALTY KILL

The Blackhawks got better in this category in the second round; after allowing six power-play goals to the Predators they gave up three to the Wild, and one was a 6-on-4 goal in the waning minutes of Game 4. The Ducks’ penalty kill has been stingy throughout the postseason, allowing just four power-play goals. As much as the Blackhawks’ kill has improved, it’s going to have its hands full with the Ducks’ power play. EDGE: Ducks

[NBC SHOP: Get the latest Blackhawks gear here]

RUST FACTOR

This normally wouldn’t be a topic but since it’s been quite a while since both teams played, we’ll discuss. The Ducks last played last Sunday; the Blackhawks haven’t played since May 7. Oh, and both teams dealt with this after their first rounds, too: Anaheim had a week between first and second rounds and the Blackhawks had six days. How did it affect each team? The Ducks beat the Flames in five and the Blackhawks beat the Wild in four, so not much. Expect both teams to be clicking after this layoff, too. EDGE: Even

EXPERIENCE

Perry, Getzlaf and Beauchemin were all part of the Ducks’ 2007 Stanley Cup team, so they know what it takes to get to this point. Kesler has been to a Cup final with the Canucks. The Ducks do have a good amount of youth on their team, however. How will they deal with the pressure that grows with each passing postseason? The Ducks will soon find out. The Blackhawks have two Cups since 2010 and have been to the Western Conference Finals three consecutive seasons. Having experience doesn’t mean a team wins, but it doesn’t hurt at this time of year. EDGE: Blackhawks

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

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AP

Blackhawks edge out Senators in shootout: 'It was really nice to get a win'

It was a rare sight to see the Blackhawks in a shootout on Wednesday night.

It was just the second time this season — and first time at the United Center — that the Blackhawks made it past 3-on-3 overtime. 

The last came on Dec. 2, 2017, a 3-2 shootout loss to the Stars in Dallas. On Wednesday night, the Blackhawks were on the other end, beating the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a seven-round shootout. Nick Schmaltz netted the game-winner.

"We'll take it," coach Joel Quenneville said. "I thought we had a decent game tonight. Overtime not so good, I liked the shootout victory, Fors made some big saves for us particularly as the game got deeper. Our third was OK, I thought our first two were way better, and overtime we gave up some high quality, some bells were rings for a bit there. But it was nice to see the shootout win."

Patrick Kane had a goal and an assist, recording another multi-point game, his 16th of the season.

"I mean we need every point we can get at this point," Kane said. "There's still belief in this locker room. Obviously we need to go on quite a run and have a big record here down the stretch. But take it a game at a time and nice to get two points."

Anton Forsberg was a big reason the Blackhawks even recorded those two points. The 25-year-old netminder stopped 34 of 36 shots and made a handful of big saves down the stretch.

"It was really nice to get a win for sure," Forsberg said. "I would love to have a lot more wins, but right now just gotta look forward and get as many wins as possible."

Added Quenneville: "I think it was good for him to win a game the way he did. Lot of shots were on the line, as we progressed, got deeper, hitting the point first was big for him and for us and then finding a way to get the extra one was a good win."

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

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NBC Sports Chicago

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Senators

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Ottawa Senators tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Trade chips.

The Blackhawks have reached the point in their season where they have no choice but to become sellers before the Feb. 26 deadline, and we saw that when they traded Michal Kempny to the Washington Capitals on Monday for a conditional third-round pick in 2018. Tommy Wingels could also be an attractive piece for a team looking to fill out their depth.

The Senators will definitely be sellers, and wow do they have some names potentially on the market that can fetch large returns: Derrick Brassard and Mike Hoffman are two players who log top-six minutes on a nightly basis and also have term left on their contract, which is great for teams looking to load up for this year and beyond.

The biggest name to watch, probably in the league altogether, is Erik Karlsson, who could be on the move if a team offers a big enough package for the Senators to pull the trigger now as opposed to in the offseason if they feel him re-signing is a long shot. He was the best defenseman last season, and if a team steps up to get him, they're getting two possible postseason runs out of him.

2. Artem Anisimov's experiment at left wing not working.

Joel Quenneville has tried rekindling the magic between Anisimov, Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane as of late, only this time Anisimov is playing the wing and it just hasn't been very effective. The trio was on the ice for each of the two 5-on-5 goals the Kings scored on Monday, and Anisimov completely lost his man on the first one.

It's important to establish a consistent left winger for Schmaltz and Kane, and maybe putting Alex DeBrincat up there is something you consider going forward as part of a long-term solution. Move Anisimov back down as the third-line center to play in more of a defensive role and continue using his big body on power plays for his offensive abilities might be the best bet.

3. Win the special teams battle.

In their last meeting against Ottawa on Jan. 9, the Blackhawks went 4-for-6 on the power play and 4-on-4 on the penalty kill in an 8-2 win. And those are two areas to look out for again.

The Senators own the 28th-ranked power play with a 16.1 percent success rate and 29th-ranked penalty kill with a 74.5 percent success rate. Get ready for another offensive outburst?