The long layover comes to an end as the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks face off Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at the Honda Center.
After 10 days of analysis, predictions and practices, it's finally time to play hockey again. The Hawks held a 5-on-5 scrimmage at their last practice on Saturday and are ready to go. Bodies rested and minds focused, it's time to take on their toughest opponent yet in these playoffs.
The Hawks had the Ducks' number in the regular season, holding Anaheim to only three goals in three games and all but neutralizing the power duo of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry along with putting up a 109-71 shot differential against a young Ducks back end. The confidence bred from those wins, along with the Hawks' four-line depth, superior defense and extensive playoff experience should serve the the team very well. With the Blackhawks a perfect 30-0-0 when leading after two periods, it will be imperative for them to come out firing and gain an early lead Sunday.
With Michal Rozsival out after surgery to repair a broken ankle suffered in the final game against the Wild, the Hawks top four defensemen will undoubtedly be logging big minutes and Rozsival's replacement, David Rundblad, will need to augment his speed with a bit more defensive grit in order to neutralize the power of the Ducks' top six forwards. The Ducks are a big, hard-checking team that likes to dump the puck into the offensive zone and punish their opponents on the way to the net.
Corey Crawford has returned to form after a stellar series against the Wild where he allowed only seven goals in four games with a 1.75 goals against average and .947 save percentage.
The Hawks remember all too well what happened last year against the Los Angeles Kings. They know how hard it is to reach the pinnacle and they are determined to seize the opportunity they have to reach the Stanley Cup Final and win their third cup in six years.
Here are the Hawks' expected lines:
The defensive pairings will likely remain the same with the exception of Rundblad, who will play in place of the injured Rozsival. Crawford will again be in net for the team.
Likely scratches: Carcillo, Cumiskey, Nordstrom, Versteeg, and Raanta.
Opponent Breakdown: Anaheim Ducks
The Anaheim Ducks have never faced the Chicago Blackhawks in the playoffs. In fact, it's been eight years since the Ducks have put together a significant playoff run and they believe that this is their year. After dispatching the Winnipeg Jets and the Calgary Flames in nine total games, giving themselves a week's rest, the Ducks are ready to bring their physical game into the Honda Center this afternoon.
Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler have made their mark this season as big bodies in front of the net, scoring many times from point blank range. During their regular season meetings with the Blackhawks they were unable to make their size and strength work for them, something they will need to get back to in order to be successful in this series.
Aside from veterans Francois Beauchemin and Clayton Stoner, the Ducks blueliners are a young group with little playoff experience and are viewed as a weak spot on an otherwise strong Anaheim team. Neither the Flames nor the Jets have the firepower of the Blackhawks and the Ducks defensemen will need to play a much quicker shut down defense in order to stop the Hawks.
One place where the Ducks' young defensemen make them dangerous is the power play. Anaheim has thrived on special teams during the postseason with their elite forwards and some cannons from the blue line, and considering the Hawks' shaky penalty kill in the first two rounds, the Ducks are likely banking on having an advantage there.
Goalie Frederik Andersen has posted a 1.96 goals against average and .925 save percentage in the first two rounds of the playoffs and has not lost a game in regulation so far. However, Andersen is not battle tested and has never been a series this big in is career. He will have to play better than ever to give his team a chance against the Hawks that have four legitimate scoring lines.
Here are the Ducks' expected lines:
And on defense:
Chicago: Michal Rozsival (lower body)
When: 2 p.m. CT
Where: Honda Center