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Blackhawks face tough test against Ducks in Western Conference Final

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Blackhawks face tough test against Ducks in Western Conference Final

The St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild, even the Los Angeles Kings: these are teams the Blackhawks are used to seeing over and over again, regular season and postseason.

The Anaheim Ducks, well, the Blackhawks don’t see them quite as often. Still, in this day and age, there’s no such thing as an unknown opponent. Even if you play once or twice a season – or in the case of these two, three times – you see enough of your opponents’ other games, you watch enough film to be ready.

And when it comes to the Ducks, the Blackhawks had better be good and ready.

No, we still don’t know when the Ducks and Blackhawks will commence the Western Conference Finals. We could take guesses until we’re all confused but what the hell is the point of that? So let’s forget about what we don’t know (at the moment) and look at what we do know: the Ducks are going to be one formidable opponent.

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“You watch them play, they’ve got a lot of different options they use,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Their [defensemen] are very mobile. They’re strong in all aspects. Faceoff circle, they’re good in that area, as well. So we need to be at our best in all areas ourselves.”

The Blackhawks were playing at their best, or pretty close to it, when they wrapped up their series vs. the Wild. The goaltending, defensive and penalty killing issues that had been there in the first round dissipated. Corey Crawford was back to his strong form. The Blackhawks held the Wild to seven goals over those four games, and two of those came in the final two and a half minutes of Game 4. The penalty kill came up in critical situations.

Now they bring that more complete game against the Ducks, who are playing pretty well themselves. The Ducks have lost just one of their nine postseason games, and that was an overtime contest. Much like the Blackhawks, they have their stars – Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have shone the brightest. They also have their secondary scorers. Would you have picked Matt Beleskey to have a goal in five consecutive games against the Flames?

The Ducks are a sizeable group and they’ll hit, something the Blackhawks know. But their concern is with another part of Anaheim’s game.

“We’ve got to take away their rush game,” Andrew Shaw said. “They’ve got a lot of guys who like to wheel and like to score goals on the rush. That’s one of their main scoring strategies. So we’ve got to shut that down.”

[MORE: Blackhawks draw Ducks in Conference Final]

The Blackhawks are entering this series confident coming off their sweep of the Wild. But they know they have to treat this series in an entirely different manner. The further they get into the rounds, the higher the stakes grow.

“We have good feelings against them but you don’t want to fall into getting complacent at all, or feel like because things have gone well that they’ll automatically go well [this round],” Corey Crawford said. “We’ll have to battle hard and remember what it felt like in the last series to battle hard and be successful because of that, and do the same thing. Fight through things and be the same team we were no matter what happens.”

The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Ducks as often as the Wild or Blues or Kings, at least on the ice, but they have a pretty good idea what to expect. The tests get tougher the further they go in the postseason. This is no exception.

“We feel like if you progress in the playoffs, you’ve got to elevate your game to beat teams that have got a lot of confidence, and they’ve got to be playing the right way,” Quenneville said. “They’ve got a lot of things going for them. You look at the first two rounds: they played extremely well. So we’ve got to raise it.”

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?

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Which Blackhawks could be on the move before trade deadline?

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Adam Burish and Pat Boyle discuss which Blackhawks could be on the trading block and what players are building blocks for the Hawks future.

Burish also shares a couple memorable trade deadline days and his “near” return to the Blackhawks in 2012. Plus, he makes his bold trade deadline prediction for the Hawks.

Listen to the full Blackhawks Talk Podcast right here: