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.”
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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.”