January 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks starters during the national anthem before playing against the Anaheim Ducks at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
So you have probably learned by now our beloved Chicago Blackhawks are set to face-off against the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Finals.
Chicago denizens’ immediate reaction will probably involve a bit of grumbling, as the Hawks will not have home ice advantage against the Pacific Division-winning Ducks. It may also involve a bit of apprehension, as the Duck have been putting together a solid post season thus far; easily dispensing the Calgary Flames in the second round in 5 games, and prior to that absolutely drubbing the Winnipeg Jets (a team that has given the Blackhawks fits during the regular season) in a 4-0 first round sweep.
Now, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Ducks are a solid squad with great size, speed, and scoring ability, and the Hawks need to take them very seriously. One knock on the Ducks has been that for whatever reason, they simply haven’t seemed to be built for the playoffs in years past considering how despite great success in the regular season, they’ve seemingly run out of gas in the post season. Well, after making short work of their first and second round opponents, this failing has at the very least been nullified. Add into all this the fact the Ducks are playing in their first Western Conference Finals since they won the Stanley Cup in 2007, and you have the dangerous combination of a talented team with something to prove.
All that being said however, if we take a few steps back and look at the big picture, I think we’ll find the Anaheim Ducks aren’t all they’re cracked up to be (notice how I didn’t use the pun quacked up? That’s called taking the high road).
January 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) plays for the puck against Anaheim Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy (6) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s first take a look at where the Ducks are coming from: the Pacific Division. The Ducks have won their division three years in a row, which is certainly an accomplishment, but let’s examine who they’ve had to beat for said title…
You have the Edmonton Oilers, who have been the lowest of the bottom dwellers in the standings for a while now. Then there’s the Arizona Coyotes, who haven’t made the playoffs since beating the Blackhawks in 2012 and have officially entered a rebuilding phase this season after dealing away all their talent at the trade deadline, not counting Shane Doan (which no one should at this point).
Then there is the San Jose Sharks, who have officially entered their downward spiral after several underwhelming playoff appearances, the most notable of which was not being able to close out a first round post season series last year after holding a 3-0 advantage. PS – they didn’t even make the playoffs this year in case you didn’t notice.
Next there is the Hawks’ former rival, the Vancouver Canucks; an epitome of drama and turmoil for the past couple years, who failed to make the playoffs last year, and where eliminated this post season by the Calgary Flames in the first round, who themselves have finally returned to the post season this year after a six year hiatus.
Finally, there’s the Los Angeles Kings. Last year’s Stanley Cup champions failed to even make the playoffs this year (and barely made it in last year FYI), which lends itself to the argument that consistency isn’t exactly their strong suit, which is probably why it took them seven games in last year’s playoffs to beat the Ducks (think about it).
January 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (2) celebrates his goal scored against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Now let’s look at where the Hawks are coming from: the Central Division. All that needs to be said here is that ever since the NHL conference realignment, Central Division, not Pacific Division, teams have occupied both wild card slots in the Western Conference. Now chew on this: the Colorado Avalanche, the lowest-tier team in the Central Division, finished the 2014-2015 regular season with more points than the last three teams at the bottom of the Pacific Division.
So maybe winning the Pacific Division isn’t quite the merit badge the Ducks, and certain other analysts, would like to think is, but they still made quick work of the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames, right? Well, let’s also take a closer look at this actcomplishment by the Ducks….
I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, playoff experience in the NHL goes miles! That being said, no one thought the Jets would roll over like they did, but consider the fact that the Jets haven’t been in the post season since they moved from Atlanta, and while in the Peach State, the last time this franchise was in the playoffs was 2007, where they were eliminated in the first round. And oh, did I mention the Flames haven’t been in the playoffs since 2009 when they were eliminated in the first round by the Hawks (another fun fact: the Flames were also located in Atlanta before moving to Calgary)?
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So there are two takeaways here: 1.) Atlanta doesn’t deserve a NHL team, and 2.) like the regular season, the Duck’s post season accomplishments this year aren’t exactly as sterling as some would have you believe.
Here’s another dirty little secret: the Ducks haven’t exactly been a playoff fixture themselves. They failed to make the playoffs in 2010 and in 2012, where they finished at an abysmal 5th in their division. On top of this, the Ducks have been knocked out of the playoffs by lower-tier teams ever since returning to the post season in 2013; they were upset by the Red Wings in the first round in 2013 and the LA Kings in the second round in 2014. This trend was also prevalent with the Ducks prior to 2012 as well, by the way…
So what does all this mean? My opinion personally: such inconsistencies are indicative of a team that is not necessarily replete with resolve and true grit, which are crucial components for winning the Stanley Cup. As I said before, the Ducks are a solid squad and will be a very tough team for the Blackhawks to beat, but as I’ve also said before, the Hawks have come up against teams like the Ducks (even better, one could argue) and sent them to the golf course.
Can the Ducks beat the Blackhawks? Yes they certainly can, but given the edge the Hawks have over the Ducks in regular season competition and recent playoff success, I would imagine it would only take the Hawks stealing one of the first two games at the Honda Center to cause the Ducks’ inherent deficiencies to start taking their toll, and spoiler alert, they’ve done this before, twice, during the regular season. So here’s hoping the Hawks can get another 4-1 victory, or preferably victories, in Anaheim.
FOR THE DAGGER!
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