NHL Western Conference Final Preview
Well uh, that was fast. With the Chicago Blackhawks bringing out the brooms and the Anaheim Ducks taking care of business in 5, we are set up for an awesome matchup in the Western Conference Final. Will the Ducks be able to get over the hump and reach their first Stanley Cup since 2007? And what about the Hawks? Can they reach their 3rd Cup this decade? And what about me? Am I better off just buying a #bucciovertimechallenge t-shirt? There’s a lot to talk about, so lets jump right into it.
#1 Anaheim Ducks vs. #3 Chicago Blackhawks
Ducks: 51-24-7, 109 points, won Pacific Division and Western Conference’s No. 1 seed
Blackhawks: 48-28-6, 102 points, finished third in Central Division
Season Series: Chicago took the season series 2-1
Key Statistics: Chicago had a superior goal differential this regular season at +34, edging Anaheim who ended the year at +7. The Hawks also have the advantage in terms of 5 on 5 Corsi. They were number 2 in the entire National Hockey League, drastically higher than the Ducks 17th ranking. Finishing their sweep of the regular season statistics, the Blackhawks finished 7th in the league (53.0%) in Fenwick Close while the Ducks earned the 14th spot (51.5%). In terms of playoff statistics, the Ducks have more Goals Per Game and have allowed fewer against.
What We Have Learned Thus Far: Can anyone stop the Ducks first two lines? No seriously, can anyone? On line one winger Corey Perry leads the entire playoffs with 15 points, but he hasn’t done it himself; center Ryan Getzlaf has tallied 12 points of his own, 10 of which are assists. The second line has produced as well. Winger Jakob Silverberg has put up 11 points, center Ryan Kesler has put 9 points, and out of nowhere, winger Matt Beleskey has scored 5 goals. Keep in mind these Ducks have only had to play 9 games to get to where they are. In addition to their first two lines, the powerplay has also been huge for the Ducks. They rank first in the playoffs, converting on 31% of their opportunities. Where they struggle is on the defensive side of the puck. Individual defensemen were exposed numerous times in the Flames series, especially by speedy wingers such as Johnny Gaudreau. Heading to the other bench, the Hawks continue to rely on their superstars as well. Winger Patrick Kane is second in the playoffs with 13 points, and he scored 5 goals in the sweep of the Minnesota Wild, benefiting from some shaky goalie play. Center Jonathan Toews ranks 5th with 11 points. Duncan Keith has continued his monstrous playoffs adding some assists to his 10-point total; he is also a ridiculous +10 when on ice in terms of goals, and +60 in terms of shot attempts vs. shots against. The most important thing to take from the Wild series however is that goalie Corey Crawford seems to have found his game again. With his new sleek white mask, he was able to post a shutout and a one-goal performance against a great offensive team. The Hawks have allowed 36.3 shots per game this playoffs (15th out of 16th), so his newfound confidence will be crucial to the their success.
Prediction Time: Let me start by saying this series has the makings of a classic. The amount of star-power on both these teams is simply absurd. With that in mind, it is going to come down to the little things in this series. Staying out of the box will obviously be key for both teams, but more so for the Hawks. Their Penalty killing unit was sub-par at 72.7% while the Ducks converted their powerplay chances 31.0% of the time. The faceoff circle could also be a deciding factor. The Ducks have won 55.4% of their faceoffs, with Getzlaf being particularly effective in that area; the Hawks have won 51.4%. The Ducks defensemen also looked susceptible the first two rounds against speedy wingers, and the Hawks have one of the fastest skaters in the league in Kaner. The Ducks’ defensemen will have to be quite conservative and utilize their sticks well to avoid getting beat one-on-one. Small things could really sway the outcome of this series. In the end, something has to give: the Ducks have won 4 games this playoffs when trailing in the 3rd period while the Hawks have not lost when leading after 2. An immovable force meets an immovable object ladies and gentlemen. The Ducks have something special going on and I’m feeling the magic. Ducks in 7.
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