1. Watch Ryan Kesler on faceoffs. The Ducks have not had a lot of success since they won their first Stanley Cup eight years ago, with just two series wins in the postseason since 2007. That is, until this year. They swept the Jets, a team I thought would upset the Ducks, and then disposed of the Flames in five games. Kesler has been a difference maker, not only chipping in with points but winning almost 64 percent of his faceoffs. That is an incredible number, and proficiency at the faceoff dot sets up a lot of scoring plays, especially on the power play. Neutralize this guy on faceoffs, and you have a better chance of controlling the game.
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2. Blackhawks' third line will be a factor. The Blackhawks and Ducks are loaded up front. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad on Line 1 and then Patrick Kane, Brad Richards and Bryan Bickell on Line 2. They are countered by Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Patrick Maroon and Kesler, Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg. I think it’s the depth of the Blackhawks that will be the difference in this series, and in particular the third line of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Tuevo Teravainen. You know what you’re getting from Sharp, a guy who has scored at least one goal in 19 straight playoff series. Vermette is looking a lot more comfortable centering this line, especially in his last three games against the Wild. And I think Teuvo Teravainen is on the verge of a breakout series. He was dangerous every time he touched the puck against the Wild after being a healthy scratch the last four games of the Predators series, and he has the type of speed and creativity that will drive the Ducks crazy.
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3. Best goalie wins. I really like how Corey Crawford has responded in these playoffs. He struggled early against the Predators, found himself the backup for a good chunk of that series, then came in to save the day in the clincher in Game 6. He has never looked back, sweeping the Wild in four games. Frederik Andersen, the Danish netminder for the Ducks, has won eight of the nine games he has played in so far. But he has bested Ondrej Pavelec, the Jets' goalie who had never played a playoff game, and the Flames' Karri Ramo, another goalie with no prior playoff experience as a starter. Andersen will now be staring down a goalie who has found his game and a stopper who has a Stanley Cup under his belt. There is so much talent on both of these squads that I think whoever has the best goaltending performance will win the game.