Blackhawks

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

saadhawksducksslidenew.png

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 have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

Blackhawks have found magic on power play with Patrick Kane and Dominik Kubalik

The Blackhawks’ power-play struggles this season have been well-documented. 

One week ago, they hit rock bottom by slipping to dead last with a 13.8% success rate after going 0-for-17 during their five-game road swing in Western Canada. It played a major role in the Blackhawks picking up only two out of a possible 10 points on that trip. 

After trying just about every possible power-play combination to that point, head coach Jeremy Colliton experimented by positioning Dominik Kubalik in the right faceoff circle and moving Patrick Kane to the left on the first unit. And it's paid off.

In the past four games, the Blackhawks are 6-for-19 on the power play for a percentage of 31.6, which ranks No. 6 over that span. Kubalik has two of those goals while Kane has one and a couple of primary assists as well. 

After Thursday's 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in which the Blackhawks scored a season-high three power-play goals, Colliton was asked whether he regretted not putting Kubalik in that spot on the first unit sooner. In an honest admission, he didn't sugarcoat his answer.

"Yeah, and I wish we would've put Kaner on the other side earlier," Colliton told reporters. "We've tried it off and on throughout since I've been here, and we just haven't been able to get it to click with enough success for everyone to embrace it. But we've been able to here, and it's been a nice weapon for us."

No doubt the Blackhawks coaching staff discussed this possibility earlier in the season but were probably reluctant to make the switch because moving Kane out of his usual spot would have meant moving Alex DeBrincat out of his normal spot and then your two best power play weapons are playing out of their comfort zone.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Blackhawks have finally found a formula that's given the power play some life.

Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Blackhawks games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.

Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

Brian Campbell impressed by Adam Boqvist's rookie season

 

Blackhawks 2010 Stanley Cup champ Brian Campbell — currently a player development coach with Chicago — took on an active role with rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist's development. On the latest installment of "Chevy Drives", Campbell tells NBC Sports Chicago's Pat Boyle, that he likes what he sees of the 19-year-old defenseman. 

"There's definitely been a lot of strides that he's taken," Campbell said of the Blackhawks' No. 8 overall pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. Boqvist played with the Hawks' American Hockey League affiliate the Rockford IceHogs earlier this season before joining Chicago.

"The American League is a tough league to play in and I thought Adam was doing really well and kind of finding his way. A lot of times people say the American League is harder to play in than the NHL, especially for a skilled guy like Adam. Then he gets up here and you can see how well he's doing with Duncan Keith and some of the plays he's made, some of the goals he's had."

Campbell made several trips to Ontario to visit Boqvist when he was playing for the London Knights in the Ontario Hockey League after he was drafted. 

"I've been impressed," Campbell said. "I didn't think he'd be at this point already. Even seeing him, he came back down to Rockford during their break, and [I] was just kind of praising him and telling him I'm proud of him. I feel like he's kind of like a little, younger brother to me. I'm proud to see where he is now and really looking forward to seeing where he's going to go."

Boqvist impressed the rest of the organization to land in Chicgao for the majority of this season and take on big minutes and big responsibilities like quarterbacking the power play on the Hawks' top unit.

"He's a really mature kid for . . . even in London, it was like, 'Okay, how are you getting around here?' There's only so much you can do [in] hockey if you're not with that person day-to-day and allowed to go in and really kind of coach them," Campbell said. "For me, I think it was more or less, 'Okay, when are you getting your workouts in,' because as you know the NHL schedule is very busy, you got to find time to get workouts in to keep your strength in your legs or else the second half of your year, you're going to start to fall through, you won't be as strong.

"So just those little insights and talks and sometimes, you can even see it in Rockford, he'd get frustrated when he wasn't getting the puck in areas, and should he get the puck in those areas? Yeah, but I'm like, 'Don't worry, once you get playing in the NHL you're going to get pucks in those areas and you have to be ready and prepared to be effective that way.'

"There's lots of little things that you can go through, the daily routine and the daily grind. Mentally, we talked a little bit about that, being prepared. He's a kid that wants to learn and he listens and asks questions. He even asked questions about my career and that only makes you a better person when you're trying to learn more and prepare yourself to be the best you can."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.