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Juggernaut vs. Underachievers: Previewing the NHL’s Western Conference Final

It’s a tale of two separate teams in this match-up. In one corner, looms the juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks making their third straight trip to the Western Conference Finals. Since the 2008-2009 season, the Hawks have been five conference finals including this year’s, advancing to win the Stanley Cup twice. In the last seven years, the Hawks have compiled a superb playoff record of 65-37.

Picture via Huffington Post
Picture via Huffington Post

Anaheim is another story. After winning the Cup in 2007, the Ducks have struggled to make playoff noise since. They’ve failed to pass the 2nd round, and are only a measly 29-25 in the seasons following the cup win.

Picture via ConcordMonitor.com
Picture via ConcordMonitor.com

The past is the past though, and what matters is now. Chicago fought off the stingy Nashville Predators, despite having to change goalies twice throughout the series. Scott Darling took over after the 1st period of Game 1, and appeared to have claimed the net for good after Crawford was lit up again in Game 2. But after Darling struggled in Game 6, he was yanked and Crawford backstopped Chicago to a comeback win, and continued his hot play in the sweep of Minnesota. The Minnesota series was of course more noted for being the Patrick Kane show, as #88 lit the lamp in each game, and once again was a big thorn in the Wild’s side.

Anaheim started their playoff run well by sweeping away a pesky Jets team that drove them to the brink in each individual game, but Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf kept them at bay in games 1-3 before Ryan Kesler finally put them away in Game 4. In the 2nd round, Anaheim steamrolled a badly over-matched Calgary team in 5 games. Like the Jets, the Flames had no answer for Getzlaf and Perry and struggled to contain Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg as well. Apart from the scorers, the Ducks defense has held up nicely, and Fredrik Andersen has been dazzling between the pipes, but he hasn’t faced a challenge like the Hawks yet.

Each team has their advantage in the series. Anaheim probably has the two best offensive weapons in the series in Getzlaf and Perry, but Chicago has far and away the two best defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.

Picture via http://thumb.usatodaysportsimages.com/image/thumb/540-390nw/8176556.jpg
Picture via USA Today Sports

 

Anaheim slightly has the better 2nd tier players in Kesler and Silfverberg, but Chicago is much deeper with Sharp, Hossa, Shaw, Saad and the always dangerous Bryan Bickell. Anaheim has had the better goaltending in the playoffs, but this is a brand new domain for Fredrik Andersen. Corey Crawford has been here three times before. Anaheim gets the nod for having great offensive production from their blueliners, but Chicago’s defense is much stronger in their own end. It’s going to be a classic, and the series will likely come down to the very last few minutes, but in the end, the younger, less experienced Ducks including Andersen will crack under the pressure. The Hawks will take the series in 7 games, and once again find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final.

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