ANAHEIM -- It comes down to a best-of-three affair to determine the Western Conference champion, and the Anaheim Ducks believe they are in a good position in spite of losing two multiple-overtime games to the Chicago Blackhawks. Of course, the Blackhawks feel the same way as they try and build on their dramatic double-overtime win in Game 4. Here are some things to watch for:
Ducks' advantage: If you’re the Ducks, this is what you’ve played for all season: Home ice advantage with two wins separating you from a trip to the Stanley Cup finals. The Ducks are 6-1 at home this spring with the only loss at the Honda Center coming in triple overtime to Chicago in Game 2. They have yet to lose a game in regulation this spring and are 10-3 overall -- the best winning percentage of any team left in the playoffs. So there should be no intimidation factor at this stage of the series, even with all of Chicago’s star power and past successes -- having won two Stanley Cups since 2010 and having now appeared in five Western Conference finals since 2009.
Blackhawks' advantage: Chicago has been extremely opportunistic in this series, as you would expect from a team with so much experience. One of the keys to Game 5 will be how they start the game and if they can put the Ducks on their heels early, which has been the case for much of the first four games. Ducks players said Monday that their focus was on not letting Chicago dictate the pace of play early on.
The Blackhawks will also be looking to continue their hot hand on the power play. They have scored three times on 17 opportunities in this series and, in an achingly tight battle with so little to separate the two teams, that has been a crucial benefit to Chicago, given that Anaheim has been the better team five-on-five. Patrick Kane’s power-play goal in the third period of Game 4 allowed the Blackhawks to knot the game at four goals apiece after the Ducks torched them for three goals in 37 seconds. As Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau noted Monday, that kind of stretch would have left lesser teams at a loss but the Blackhawks bounced right back.
The Ducks have also been guilty of being less disciplined in the series, enjoying just nine power play attempts (and scoring only once) while giving Chicago almost twice that many power-play opportunities at 17. If Chicago continues to win the special teams battle, it will win this series.
Chicago's lack of blue-line depth Chicago coach Joel Quenneville may be weary of the line of questioning, but concerns about the Blackhawks' depth along the blue line are not going away -- at least not until they vanquish the Ducks. With veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen a liability almost every time he steps on the ice, which is now infrequently (he played just 10:15 in Game 4) and trust in Kyle Cumiskey modest at best, the Ducks believe they are succeeding in wearing down the Blackhawks top four defensemen -- Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya. The Blackhawks did not skate Monday morning as Quenneville is hoping for fresh legs Monday. He can pooh-pooh the issue of whether this could be a determining factor in the series, but the more the Ducks pound on the Blackhawks highly skilled, mobile defenders, the less time they have to make plays and the more prone they will be to making mistakes in their own zone. At least that’s the theory.
Anaheim lineup changes?: After keeping the lineups the same for the first four games, Boudreau opted go back to Tomas Fleischmann, who was in and out of the lineup in the first two series. He replaced Emerson Etem on the fourth line.
"He’s had success in these games," Boudreau said before the change was made. "Earlier in the playoffs he was very, very good against Winnipeg."
Interesting to note that Quenneville did try a similar strategy between Game 2 and 3, taking out Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette for Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom before reinserting them for Game 4 where Vermette scored the double overtime winner.
Boudreau was also asked about veteran James Wisniewski, who has not played at all this postseason.
"It is easier to put in a forward than a defenseman," Boudreau said, but acknowledged that Wisniewski is an option. It would be a shock if the former Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman was inserted at this stage of the series unless Boudreau is worried about fatigue or injury among his six defensemen.
"I think rest at this time of the year is a weapon. You have to use it," Boudreau said.
Expected line combinations:
Patrick Sharp - Antoine Vermette - Teuvo Teravainen
Duncan Keith - Kyle Cumiskey
Kimmo Timonen - Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya - Niklas Hjalmarsson