Now that the Blackhawks have finally sent the Minnesota Wild packing and on their way to the nearest golf course, we can shift our focus ahead to the Western Conference Final. The Hawks will play the winner of the Ducks-Kings series, which is headed to a seventh game tomorrow night. Both teams are strong in multiple areas of their game, so which one do the Blackhawks really want to play next?
Let’s start by taking a look at a potential Blackhawks-Kings series.
During the regular season, the Hawks went 3-0-0 against LA, outscoring them 9-4 in those three games. However, that was the regular season, and the Kings are playing what may be their best hockey of the year right now. They are an elite defensive team as we have all seen in the past, and they have one of the best goaltenders in the world. If we thought the Wild did a good job at slowing down the pace of the Hawks and keeping them from using their speed to their advantage, just wait until we (potentially) see LA. They can shut their opposition down as well as anyone in the league and can force them to play a slow, chip-and-chase type game. That does not bode necessarily well for the Hawks. On top of that, Jonathan Quick has the ability to single handedly win a series.
As for the Ducks, they finished the regular season as the top team in the Western Conference. Despite that fact, the Blackhawks still went 2-0-1 against them in the regular season, with that one loss being a shootout/coin flip loss. The Ducks were one of the league’s top goal-scoring teams this season, but in the playoffs and against much tougher defenses, they rank eighth (fourth among the remaining teams). Their top line, which features Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, is always one of the most dangerous lines in hockey, but after that the Ducks offense takes a step back. On defense, Cam Fowler leads the way for Anaheim with a couple of other solid, but inexperienced d-men. They have the ability to shut down their opponent’s offense at times, but their lack of experience in the postseason is a problem. In net, it has been a circus for the Ducks this postseason. They started the playoffs with Frederik Andersen in goal, then turned to Jonas Hiller, and are now riding rookie John Gibson, who played in all of three games during the regular season. Who knows if/when they’ll switch it up again. The bottom line is that there is a lot of uncertainty regarding who their number one goalie is right now.
So, which one do the Hawks want to play? While the answer may seem obvious based on what was just said, there’s more to it than just that.
In a series against the Kings, the Blackhawks would get home-ice advantage. There is also somewhat of a “familiarity” with the Kings since the Hawks just played them in the Conference Final last year. Yes, the Kings are probably the better team compared to Anaheim, but there are advantages to playing against them in the Conference Final.
If the Blackhawks end up playing Anaheim, that matchup better favors the Hawks than one with LA. The lack of depth on the Ducks, their inexperience in late playoff rounds, and their goalie problems are not a good recipe when playing the Blackhawks. Yet, the Ducks would have the home-ice advantage over the Hawks based on regular season point totals.
While the Blackhawks would never admit it publicly, they would rather face the Ducks in the Conference Final. There are too many areas of Anaheim’s game that are inferior to those of the Hawks, and the Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the league (if not the best) at winning important games on the road. Having the home-ice advantage is always nice, but in this case I think the Hawks would trade it in for a less complicated matchup with the Ducks.
Regardless of who the Blackhawks end up playing next, they need to elevate their game from where it was at against Minnesota. They can’t come out against the Ducks or Kings with they effort they displayed against the Wild and expect to win again. That just won’t work. They have to get back to being the better puck possession team and having more offensive zone time and shots on goal than they did this last round.
My gut feeling is that the Kings are going to end up winning Game 7 in Anaheim, meaning another showdown with the Hawks. If I’m right, people will be quite surprised when they watch the Kings this time around compared to last year. They are much healthier and want revenge. The Blackhawks will need their A-game to advance.