Time is nearly up in the wait for another Chicago Blackhawks playoff game. Their Western Conference finals series against the Anaheim Ducks is set to begin this afternoon at the Honda Center.
On this website and in plenty of other corners of the Internet, speculation and predictions about this series have run wild with the amount of down time available. A lot of this chatter has centered around the forwards on the top two lines of both squads — guys like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa for the ’Hawks, and Ryan Getzlaf, Lord Voldemort and Ryan Kesler for the Ducks. Nearly as many words have been spent talking about how the teams’ defensive units stack up against one another.
But let’s talk about another aspect of this series: the bottom two forward lines.
Some of us on this site believe the ’Hawks’ third line will be the X factor of this series. We could extend that assertion to Chicago’s fourth line as well. Let’s dig into why that’s possible.
Da Windy City
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau has shown a tendency, when he has last change, to simply roll his lines without much concern for matchups. For example, this would set the ’Hawks’ third line of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen against the Ducks’ trio of Andrew Cogliano, Nate Thompson and Kyle Palmieri for games at the Honda Center. Five of those six have very strong puck possession numbers during these playoffs — Thompson sits below 48 percent. Additionally, Vermette and Thompson are among the top faceoff men in these playoffs, with the former holding a 64.4 percent success ratio and the latter sitting at 62.7 percent.
Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
This means the ’Hawks’ third line could have a great opportunity to break through on the road. Though Thompson is solid at the dot, Vermette has proven to be better. Additionally, you could argue the ’Hawks’ third line offers more speed and defensive capability than that of the Ducks. With the top two lines grinding each other down (though they certainly won’t shut out one another during the games at Honda Center), Sharp-Vermette-Teuvo has the chance to be a difference-making line offensively. There’s also the chance defensemen Sami Vatanen and Clayton Stoner will accompany the Ducks’ third line at times, and this ’Hawks trio (or any of them, for that matter) would feast on those blueliners.
The same goes for Chicago’s fourth line on the road in this series. Though Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Andrew Desjardins are frequently utilized in defensive situations, if they draw the Ducks’ fourth line at the Honda Center, they’ll have a chance to produce goals as well. Anaheim has most recently been employing Tomas Fleischmann, Rickard Rakell and Tim Jackman on its fourth line. Fleischman and Jackman have been beyond awful possession-wise (39 percent and 47.6 percent, respectively), while Rakell doesn’t do much to push play and yesterday left a Ducks’ practice due to illness. The ’Hawks’ fourth line has shown an inclination toward attempting offense before this series, and it’d have ample opportunities if matched up against Fleischmann-Rakell-Jackman.
At the United Center, Chicago’s third and fourth lines will be just as important in this series. Sharp-Vermette-Teuvo should be able to match up against the Ducks’ weak forwards, like they were able to do against Minnesota the round before. A heaping helping of Fleischmann-Rakell-Jackman would get those three ’Hawks all over the scoresheet in this series. As for the fourth line while at The Madhouse, it will likely be tasked with getting Toews away from Getzlaf as often as possible. This is how Joel Quenneville kept Toews away from Mikko Koivu in the previous round, so the importance of Shaw-Kruger-Desjardins in this series should be seen in multiple ways.
Of course, Boudreau could start to play the matchups while at the Honda Center, and he could kill off the use of his fourth line at the UC. But he’s shown no inclination toward either option during these playoffs. It’s likely he won’t start the series changing his ways, and if he decides to switch his line of thought later on, the ’Hawks are probably in good shape anyway.
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