Blackhawk Up Staff Picks: The Western Conference Finals

By Tim Lively

January 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook (7) plays for the puck against Anaheim Ducks right wing Kyle Palmieri (21) during the third period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s less than 48 hours till our beloved Chicago Blackhawks take on the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center in the first game of the Western Conference Finals, and here at Blackhawk Up, we’re just as excited as you are! Here are Blackhawk Up’s staff picks for the series as well as the X-Factors we think will be the difference makers:

Brain Kasnicka

Prediction: Blackhawks in Five – Anaheim is a talented team but the Hawks are on a roll and shouldn’t be slowing down any time soon. The Blackhawks ability to score from all four forward lines will be a big reason why they’ll take this series. Corey Crawford’s experience in net and in big games will prove too much for Frederick Andersen and the rest of the quack attack.

X-Factor: Bryan Bickell – Bickell will need to bring his physical game to this round as he did in the previous round. Anaheim is a big team, so the Hawks will need their big guy to step up and do some serious checking.

Ericka McFee

Prediction: Blackhawks in Seven (with at least as much OT as the Nashville Predators series) – No that’s not what I want to happen but what is more likely. These teams are much more evenly matched than in the first two rounds. Will likely come down to a bad bounce/puck luck again, but this time, in favor of the Hawks.

X-Factor: Duncan Keith – Chicago runs on Duncan. To be able to sustain that level of effort for such ungodly amounts of ice time, he’s an early Smythe candidate in my book.

Sean Fitzgerald

Prediction: Blackhawks in Five – Everyone seems to think Corey Crawford is overrated. Many analysts state that Crawford and Frederick Andersen will wash each other out in this series. They are mistaken. Crawford will be the difference for the Blackhawks in this series. After a BAD opening round against the Predators, Crawford returned to form against the Minnesota Wild. Crawford helped the Blackhawks steal Game 3 in Minnesota 1-0 and withstood the Wild’s desperate rush in Game 4. People seem to overlook the fact that he had his best full season in the NHL this year with a  .926 save percentage and 2.27 goals against average. Did I fail to mention, he was the best player in the playoffs two seasons ago and has won a Stanley Cup.

X-Factor: Corey Crawford – Obviously…

Colin Likas

Prediction: Blackhawks in Six – There’s a matchup the Hawks should be licking their chops over…

X-Factor: The Third Line – Against Minnesota, the trio of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen dominated puck possession. The three have a fantastic opportunity to do so against Anaheim as well. While the Fowler-Despres and Beauchemin-Lindholm defensive pairings should see a lot of Saad-Toews-Hossa and Bickell-Richards-Kane, that leaves the inferior (in possession and ability) third pairing of Stoner-Vatanen to tackle the ’Hawks’ third line. If Sharp, Vermette and Teravainen can turn their stellar puck possession into goals against the Ducks, it would give the Chicago offense an extra kick that Anaheim will struggle to match.

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Josh Brink

Prediction: Blackhawks in Six – The Ducks are a physical team and the Blackhawks are a skilled fast team. The Blackhawks will take advantage of playing off/around the Ducks hits and will use their speed to burn this team. Patrick Kane will continue to present on Showtime.

X-Factor: Corey Crawford – Crow needs to be the difference if the Blackhawks want to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.

Gail Kauchak

Prediction: Blackhawks in Six – The Anaheim Ducks are a big and physical team that will give the Blackhawks a hard fought battle similar to the series against the Los Angeles Kings last year.  It won’t be easy, but the Hawks depth and experience will eventually prove to be too much for the Ducks.  I predict these 2 teams will split games at the Honda Center.  The Hawks will then win both at home.  But the Ducks will come back with a big victory to win Game 5.  Finally, the Hawks will prevail back at the United Center.

X-Factor: The Third Line – I think the top 2 lines will essentially neutralize each other during this series.  But the third line will be the secret weapon. They are just too strong to be held back much longer. Teuvo Teravainen will come up with some timely goals and assists and be the X-factor in this series.

Tim Lively

Prediction: Blackhawks in Five – The Hawks’ play right now reminds me a lot about how they looked in 2010 after they beat the Vancouver Canucks and went on to sweep the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference Finals: they’ve really hit their stride and are firing on all cylinders. The Ducks are too good to be swept, but the Hawks are also bringing in some bitter lessons learned from last year’s Western Conference Finals’ heartbreak, so don’t expect them to give the Ducks an inch when they gain the series’ lead.

X-Factor: David Rundblad – No one is expecting Rundblad to have a major impact, but he’s still the only change to a Hawks lineup that has thus far had great playoff success. Rundblad’s ability to earn Coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence and allow the Big Four defensemen to continue to operate so effectively will be critical.

Zach Charles

Prediction: Blackhawks in Four – Here’s the thing… Don’t get me started. But, yea just… Don’t.

X-Factor: I said don’t get me started!

What’s you prediction for the Western Conference Finals? Let us know here art Blackhawks Up!

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