Blackhawks

Blackhawks

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