January 30, 2015; Anaheim, CA, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad (20) moves the puck against Anaheim Ducks defenseman Francois Beauchemin (23) during the second period at Honda Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Longest. Ten days. Ever. Hopefully, in the long run, these last ten days will turn out to be instrumental in giving the Chicago Blackhawks the rest that they need to return to Stanley Cup glory. First, they will have to deal with the Anaheim Ducks as the two teams are set to drop the puck on Game One of the 2015 Western Conference Finals.
Since the Ducks have home-ice advantage, today’s Game One and Tuesday’s Game Two will be played in Anaheim. Puck drop for today’s game is set for 2:00 PM Central Time. The game can be seen on NBCSN and can be heard on WGN 720 AM.
Here’s how the Hawks and Ducks have fared statistically in the playoffs so far.
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Well, if you just look at the numbers, you would think that the Hawks were in big trouble. This is likely not the case.
The Hawks’ Goals Against Average is still a bit inflated from two blowout losses against the Nashville Predators in the First Round. Typically, the Hawks have been very stingy and allowed far fewer goals and far fewer chances than the numbers suggest. Defensively, they have been playing their best hockey of the year.
Anaheim’s numbers are likely inflated largely due to the competition they have faced in the playoffs so far. They swept the Winnipeg Jets in the First round. Winnipeg was playing in their first playoff series since moving to Winnipeg from Atlanta. The jitters seemed real and proved that they weren’t ready for a deep run.
The Calgary Flames were the Duck’s Second Round opponent. With some of the worst puck possession stats in the NHL during the regular season, the Flames were pretty much the longest lasting statistical anomaly in NHL history. Calgary’s youth and luck caught up to them when the Ducks easily eliminated them.
The Hawks faced a veteran Nashville team with the deepest blueline in the NHL. Nashville lead the Central Division throughout most of the season and proved to be a very worthy opponent, but the Hawks were able to slip by them in six games.
In the Second Round, the Hawks faced the best team in the NHL in the 2nd half of the season, the Minnesota Wild. The Hawks played their best hockey of the year and swept them. I’m not making excuses for the Hawks, but while the numbers are far from encouraging to their chances of beating the Ducks, the eye test from the first two rounds certainly is.
The Ducks live and die by their first two forward lines. Their top-line of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Patrick Maroon. This line is one of the best in the NHL as it boasts in absurd amount of size and skill.
The second line is also freakishly good. Ryan Kesler is playing his best hockey since helping lead the Vancouver Canucks to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals. For some reason, not enough people are talking about Jakob Silvferberg but they should be. He has eleven points so far in the playoffs and he has an incredible shot. Matt Beleskey is also on this line and his five playoff goals are quite remarkable as are his zero assists.
While the Ducks’ top two lines are as good as it gets, their blueline could wind up being the Achille’s heel. Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler and Sami Vatenen are all solid defenseman, that’s all they are. Hampus Lindholm is also very solid and yes, that’s four solid defenseman. There’s no Shea Weber, no Ryan Suter, not even a Roman Josi or a Marco Scandella. The Duck’s blueline can get the job done as long as you aren’t asking for extraordinary things.
Starting in net for the Ducks will be Frederik Andersen. Andersen has been excellent with a .925 Save Percentage in the playoffs so far. This series will either show that he isn’t battle-tested yet or it will be his proving ground. We shall see.
The Hawks are well-rested and given the amount of hoecky they have played over the past three years and even the past six years if you want to go that far, this rest could be quite significant.
Obviously, with the injury to Michal Rozsival, Coach Q is going to lean quite heavily on his top-four defenseman, although he pretty much was already doing this. So, now that he’ll have to lean even more heavily on his top-four, the rest was the best thing Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya could’ve asked for.
While the Ducks have the crazy-good top two lines, the Hawks have more overall depth at forward. The Hawks top two lines can be just as dangerous as the Ducks’ top two lines. In case you forgot, Patrick Kane skates on the Hawks’ second line.
The third line could be a bit of an X-factor in this series. Antoine Vermette has found his game and a home as the third line’s center. He is flanked by the young and dangerous Teuvo Teravainen and the older, dangerous and battle-tested Patrick Sharp.
Starting in net for the Hawks will be Corey Crawford. After a rough first round, Crawford played as good as he has ever played in the second round. Hopefully, he will be able to pick up where he left off.
This sereis could be many things. There are many reasons for Hawks’ fans to be optimistic but for your own sake, temper these expectations a bit and don’t get too far ahead of yourself. Anaheim has enough star power to make this a very interesting series. At the same time, it cannot be denied that this series favors the Hawks.
It all starts today.