CHICAGO -- On Sunday the Chicago Blackhawks began their preparation for the Western Conference finals without a known opponent.
They were back on the ice Monday, and this time they were able to practice with someone in mind. The Anaheim Ducks advanced to meet the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals by defeating the Calgary Flames in overtime early Monday morning.
The Blackhawks’ initial reaction was what you’d expect. From Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on down, they voiced their respect for the Ducks and anticipation for a close and entertaining series.
“You watch them play, they’ve got a lot of different options they use,” Quenneville said after practice at Johnny’s IceHouse West. “Their D are very mobile. They’re strong in all aspects. Faceoff circle, they’re good in that area, as well. So, we need to be at our best in all areas ourselves.
“We feel like if you progress in the playoffs, you’ve got to elevate your game to beat teams that have got a lot of confidence and they’ve got to be playing the right way. They’ve got a lot of things going for them. You look at the first two rounds, they played extremely well. So, we’ve got to raise it.”
The Blackhawks had success against the Ducks during the regular season. They defeated them 4-1 twice in Anaheim and lost 1-0 in Chicago. They Blackhawks outscored the Ducks 7-1 in 5-on-5 play and had a 59.7 Corsi percentage.
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford acknowledged his team’s past victories against the Ducks, but he thought they couldn’t think too much about that.
“We have good feelings against them, but you don’t want to fall into getting complacent at all or you feel like because things have gone well that they’ll automatically go well,” said Crawford, who has a 9-4-1 record with a 1.88 goals-against average and .926 save percentage in 15 career games against the Ducks. “We’ll have to battle hard and remember what it felt like in the last series to battle hard and be successful because of that and do the same thing. Fight through things and be the same team we were no matter what happens.”
The Blackhawks expect to especially have their hands full with the Ducks’ top two lines –- Patrick Maroon–Ryan Getzlaf–Corey Perry and Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg. Perry has a team-high seven goals and 15 points in the playoffs. Getzlaf has 10 assists. Silfverberg has 11 points. Beleskey has five goals.
“I think the top line is always something you've got to be aware of,” Quenneville said. “That other line is very effective and dangerous last night [against the Flames in Game 5]. Going into their building, got a pretty good idea of how the matchups are going to be. We'll see how that all plays itself out. I think the four-line depth is going to be important for both teams.”
The Ducks are also riding a hot power play. After being 28th in the regular season with a 15.7 power-play percentage, the Ducks have the top power play in the playoffs by scoring on 9-of-29 chances for a 31.0 percentage.
The Blackhawks also anticipate a more physical series than their first two rounds. The Ducks are averaging 35.3 hits per game. Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell was personally looking forward to that and thought it played to the Blackhawks’ advantage.
“I think if it’s a physical game, it kind of gets me going on the ice and gets them running out of position to collapse on mistakes like that,” Bickell said. “A guy taking himself out of the play could leave us two seconds left in the slot.
“It should be a physical series. We just need to use our speed. If we use our speed, I’m sure they’re going to have a hard time hitting us. It should be a fun series. There’s going to be a lot of high-end plays, and things you kind of don’t think you’ve seen in the last couple of rounds that you kind of see that they’ve done in the last couple of rounds is going to be different. Again, it’s going to be exciting time.”