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Big questions for Blackhawks vs. Ducks with Anaheim Calling

For some outsider perspective on the Western Conference Final, we asked the folks at SBN's Ducks blog to answer some questions about the series.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have been two of the best teams in the Western Conference for a long time, and this weekend they will begin a series to decide who reaches the Stanley Cup Final. It's a matchup full of star power and intrigue, the likes of which could end up in a sweep or a brutal seven-game showdown.

That means there are a lot of questions to ask -- and try to answer -- before Game 1 on Sunday, and we thought a little outside perspective might help with that. Christopher Kober, the managing editor at Anaheim Calling, SBN's Ducks blog, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us, and below you'll see a writer who sounds pretty confident in his team. Looks like we have something in common there.

Without further ado, here are seven questions for the seven-game series between Chicago and Anaheim. For more on the matchup, I also answered some questions for Chris over at Anaheim Calling if you want to check out that post.

SCH: The Ducks have a stellar top two lines but don't seem to have the Blackhawks' depth. How do you think Anaheim will deal with a third line of Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen?

AC: That is certainly a concern, however, in terms of sheer numbers thus far in the playoffs, I'd say that difference in scoring depth is made up by the Ducks' defense. Through two rounds five of the Ducks' defensemen are in the top 12 of scoring on the team, whereas only three of Chicago's are in that range. That's also considering trade deadline acquisition James Wisniewski hasn't played a game yet, though we all hope he does before the end of this series.

As far as name recognition on the lower lines, I'd say Andrew Cogliano who has been playing very well this post season and occasionally finds his way down to the fourth line is every bit as dangerous as Vermette. Also, I can't say I've seen a heck of a lot of Teravainen but I know that Chicago fans love him and wish he played more, which sounds quite a bit like our very own Rickard Rakell. Plus most of us here at AC, hope to see the playoff debut of Jiri Sekac (aka Cakes, his name spelled backwards) and/or Emerson Etem back in the lineup in place of either Kyle Palmieri, who has been largely ineffective in the playoffs so far or Tim Jackman who played only 3.2 minutes in Game 5 vs. Calgary.

Ryan Kesler has nine points in nine playoff games and his presence seems to be the biggest difference from past Ducks teams. Has he lived up to your expectations as the No. 2 center?

Yes. Next question.

Ok, I'll elaborate a little. The Ducks haven't had a legit second line center since Andy McDonald was traded away in December of 2007, so the acquisition of Kesler has been a long time coming, and he's made a huge difference in how the Ducks match up against the truly elite teams of the NHL. For example, in my questions to SCH, I asked if Coach Q would rather stack up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane vs. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry or split them up and have Kane face the Kesler line. Last year that second option would have been to line Kane up against a line led by an aging Saku Koivu. No contest which is preferable for us. Plus Kesler has produced relatively consistently throughout the year and has put up some huge goals in critical times of important games.

On top of all that, it's cool to have another guy, besides Corey Perry, who infuriates the opponents and their fans to no end. We're just super glad that Vancouver was forced to trade him here because Chicago and Pittsburgh were more or less capped out. Also, it should be a lot of fun to see him renew his personal rivalry with Chicago from his Vancouver days in this series.

Anaheim has home-ice advantage, but the team hasn't beaten the Blackhawks at the Honda Center since March 20, 2013, and Chicago fans are known to travel as well as any fan base in the league. Do you guys worry about the opponent being so comfortable playing in your building?

First of all, I don't necessarily know if Chicago necessarily travels well as much as they are just heavily transplanted in Southern California. Secondly, that's just a way of life for us, the price you pay for having great weather year round and cheap hockey tickets. Of course I don't like how many Chicago fans are inevitably in the building, but it's no different from when Detroit or San Jose or LA or even sometimes Vancouver come to town.

The recent form against the Blackhawks, especially this year's season series, is a much bigger concern. In the Ducks' defense, the blueline was so ravaged by injury that Bob Murray traded for Eric Brewer literally during the Ducks/Hawks Black Friday game that Chicago ended up winning 4-1 (and it wasn't really that close). Two of the Ducks' defensemen in that game (Mat Clark and Jesse Blacker) combined for a total of eight NHL games played this season and a third (Josh Manson) was also an AHL regular. There isn't really any excuse for the other 4-1 loss to Chicago this year, other than it came in probably the darkest period of the season where the Ducks went 3-6-1 over the course of about a month.

Only three players are left from the Ducks' 2007 Cup team -- Perry, Getzlaf, Beauchemin. How does that trio provide the leadership on a team that's otherwise not nearly as experienced as Chicago?

It's no coincidence that those are the three players with letters on their chests. It took a couple of years after Scott Niedermayer's retirement in 2010 for Getzlaf to settle into the captaincy as well as being relied upon to carry the team offensively, but this is 110 percent his team now.  Perry has matured greatly since 2007 (more on that in the next question) and goes hand in hand with Getzlaf when it comes to leadership on the ice.  Meanwhile,  Beauch provides the vast majority of experience on the Ducks' blueline that includes three 23-year-olds, a 21-year-old and Clayton Stoner.

People like to give Corey Perry a tough time, as a Ducks fan what would you tell a casual hockey fan to explain why Perry is actually awesome?

Well, first I'd say that he's so good at hockey he won a Hart Trophy a Rocket Richard Trophy and (specifically for Blackhawks fans) he's currently outscoring Patrick Kane with one fewer game played this post season. That should be enough, but considering his reputation it's definitely not.  There's a reason why even his teammates call him "Worm" and it's not because he's a warm, cuddly guy. The cliché way to say it is he's a player that you hate to play against but love to have on your team.

I mentioned above that he's matured. You wouldn't necessarily know when he's trolling Patrick Roy, filling Jeff Carter's glove with water or stealing Alex Semin's stick, all of which happened last year, but those things are mostly harmless and hilarious (also the sheer comedy of those moments is one reason to like him). What I mean by his maturation is that he doesn't take as many stupid/outright dirty penalties as he used to (i.e. cross checking a prone Evgeni Nabokov in the crease after the play), which would rile up Ducks fans almost as much as opposing fans. He still crashes the crease hard (see OT goal vs. Calgary in Game 5), he goes down a little easy from time to time, or gives a little shot to someone behind the play, but he does a much better job of walking the line ever since his 50 goal 2011 season. And that last sentence truly sums up why everyone else in the league hates him but we love him.

Frederik Andersen played great in the first two rounds, but there are some reasons to be skeptical for this series, from his inexperience to the shaky performances (0-2, 3.52 GAA) against Chicago this season. How confident are you in Andersen to hold up against a Blackhawks team with much more firepower than Winnipeg or Calgary?

Freddy has been nothing but solid this year, with the exception of some struggles returning from injury (presumed concussion after getting hit in the back of the head by a falling crossbar) in February/March. There was some controversy over who would start (Freddy or John Gibson) at the beginning of the season and the beginning of the playoffs but never really any question in my mind, or most Ducks fans that I know of, over who is the real number one, and he's shown no reason to question it so far in the playoffs.

As for his play against Chicago, that Black Friday game was a travesty in many ways but Freddy was the best Duck on the ice despite giving up for goals and he made this save on Marian Hossa. Again, I have no excuse for the other game in Anaheim, other than the team as a whole was pretty terrible at the time. Overall, I have plenty of confidence in Freddy. The bigger issue defensively will be whether the defense in front of will be able to break out and clear the puck from the zone effectively enough to keep unnecessary pressure off of him.

Okay, be honest: Are you into the Ducks' sweaters? Because if those were my team's digs I'd be begging them for new ones.

I am, they're not perfect by any means, but they'll do for now.  We can't all have the luxury of a classic original six look. I like the webbed D logo better than the word mark that they used from 2007 to last season, but the striping could definitely be toned down. Let's put it this way, when they came out with the new road white jerseys this year, I didn't buy one but I do have the third jersey that is 99 percent the same as the current home sweater. I'll just end the fashion discussion by saying that I am patiently waiting for the (inevitable) day that we have a jersey with an orange, black and gold treatment of the Mighty Ducks logo on the chest. (Ed. Note: I think we all want that, too.)