Blackhawks’ biggest threats in the West

2015-11-07 13.59.52Now that the NHL trade deadline has passed, we have ourselves a better idea of how each team’s roster should (for the most part) look come playoff time. Minor changes could be made here and there and players could get injured between now and April, but we can’t predict any of that. So we’re left with the present rosters.

Many people are naming the Blackhawks as this year’s big winners of the trade deadline, and I’m not sure anyone can thoroughly argue that. But aside from what the Hawks did, there were some other big moves by other teams as well.

Given the current rosters of each team in the West, let’s look at which teams may pose the biggest threat to the Blackhawks’ hopes of returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the second straight season.

  1. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings are always scary in my mind. They aren’t as deep as they have been in the past when they won their two Cups, although they did just trade for Kris Versteeg, and their defense isn’t as much of a sure thing as it once was. That said, they’re still the Kings and they still possess more playoff experience than just about any other team in the league outside of the Blackhawks. Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar are world-class players at their respective positions, and those two alone can carry this team to another Cup if all goes well. Also, if they can get a healthy Marian Gaborik back for the playoffs, they’ll be that much better. So while L.A. may not be as good as the next team on this list, the fact that they’ve climbed to the mountain top and back twice is reason enough for me to be more afraid of them than any other team in the Western Conference.
  2. Anaheim Ducks: Despite their rocky start to the season, the Ducks find themselves in a position where they could win the Pacific Division. They didn’t make any big moves at the trade deadline, but I’m not completely sure that they needed to. They’re a deep team at forward and on defense, but their defense can also be torched at times. Come playoff-time, Anaheim will likely have to get by L.A. at some point if they are to end up facing the Blackhawks (again), and the same goes for the Kings having to face the Ducks. I bring that up because I don’t think Anaheim beats Los Angeles in a seven game series, thus eliminating their threat to the Hawks. The bottom line with the Ducks, however, is that unless they get great goaltending from Gibson, which can be a toss-up, and unless Getzlaf and Perry perform like all-stars, this team won’t beat the Kings or Blackhawks in a playoff series.
  3. St. Louis Blues: I’m still scratching my head over the fact that Doug Armstrong made zero moves to help his team at the trade deadline. They could really use another goalie given the injuries to Allen and Elliott, and James Reimer was available, but Armstrong did nothing. They could also have used a scoring winger and a defenseman, but again, they did nothing. As currently constructed, the Blues lack the forward and defensive depth to knock off a Chicago, L.A., or Anaheim in a playoff series. They’re a tough, bruising team, but like always they lack that offensive firepower that is necessary to make a deep playoff run.
  4. San Jose Sharks: This team has performed much better than expectations this year, and they lead the NHL with 22 road victories. It is imperative that you be a good road team if you want any success in the playoffs. Aside from that, they have decent depth at forward and own a very good top two lines led by Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau, and Couture. Defensively they’re not bad either, but they’re not great. Brent Burns is arguably the league’s best offensive d-man and adds a big scoring threat when on the ice, but overall their defense can be beaten. I really like their addition of James Reimer at the trade deadline, as they now have a very good goaltending tandem of him and Martin Jones. That said, Jones, their number one, has no playoff experience and Reimer has little. This is a team that has the talent to pull off an upset over a someone like Anaheim, L.A, or St. Louis, but not Chicago (I say that as unbiased as I can).
  5. Dallas Stars: Some may ask why they’re number five on this list, and I suppose that is somewhat justifiable. Here’s the thing, though: Dallas got WORSE at the trade deadline. I cannot fathom why Kris Russell drew so much attention when all he was in Calgary was a terrible defenseman on a bad defensive team. Sure, he may have some offensive numbers, but his defensive stats are horrible. Yet the Stars went out and got him with the hopes of deepening their d-corps. That d-corps, by the way, has some recognizable names to it, but they’re almost all offensive-defensemen with the exception of Oduya. Then you factor in their goaltending, which is probably the worst of any team near the top of the standings in either conference, and you begin to see why they really don’t have a strong chance of knocking off a team like the Blackhawks in a playoff series. Sure their offense is elite, but if you can’t keep the puck out of your net in the postseason, you have no chance. Oh, and I like to make note of the “experience factor” come playoff-time, of which the Stars have minimal with all things considered.

Given the additions made by the Blackhawks over the last week, I firmly believe they are the best team in the West, and quite possibly the NHL. They definitely have the deepest set of forwards in the league, which is absolutely crucial in the playoffs. Their defense could have really used a guy like Dan Hamhuis, but the hope is that Christian Erhoff will find success in the Hawks’ system and turn into a reliable number four, puck-moving defenseman by the end of the regular season.

I like the Blackhawks’ chances in a playoff series against any team in the Western Conference due to their forward depth and experience (keep in mind that they are still without Hossa and Kruger), but ultimately they’ll have to go out and prove they’re the best team yet again.

This is still too early to be making any solid playoff predictions, so we’ll hold off on that until the playoff matchups are set, but as of right now the Blackhawks are my Stanley Cup favorite for many reasons.

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Game 7

bluejackets07-rgbjpg-8678ad1b3fbe2735For the second straight postseason, we’re going to witness a Game 7 featuring the Blackhawks. And, for the second straight year, the Blackhawks come into this one having won games 5 and 6 to force a seventh game. While their victory in Game 6 was about as exciting and nauseating as a game can get, it’s important to realize that all that win did was allow the Hawks to live another day and have a chance to win Game 7. Without a win tonight, Game 6 means jack squat.

Like I’ve done before, here’s what the Hawks need to do tonight in order to win and advance:

  • Corey Crawford needs to be great like he was for most of Game 6.
  • The Blackhawks’ forechecking has to be relentless. The Saad-Shaw-Kane line put on a forechecking clinic last game, so hopefully the other lines will follow their lead.
  • Look for the Kings to play Drew Doughty against Kane and his linemates. This will open up the door for the Toews line to possibly have some success. Tonight would be a good time for Bryan Bickell to show up again.
  • The Hawks cannot afford to take penalties. One or two are fine, because that’s hockey, but they can’t be stupid ones. If they do take penalties, the PK has to be good. They allowed another PP goal to the Kings in Game 6, and it almost cost the Blackhawks their season.
  • Brent Seabrook needs to forget about his whole postseason up to this point. He has not been good. The Hawks really need him to start playing like he has in past playoffs, like last year when he was a huge reason for them winning the Cup. The rest of the defense needs to be great as well. No defensive zone turnovers, no breakdowns in coverage, and no getting beat to rebounds in front of Crawford. The defense as a whole played maybe their best game of the series in Game 6 despite a few mistakes, but they’ll need to be better tonight.
  • The Blackhawks will most likely only roll three lines. The fourth line during the morning skate today was Versteeg-Handzus-Bollig. Those guys will be glued to the bench for most of the game, meaning the other three lines are going to have to somehow play 60 minutes without getting exhausted, much like last game.
  • Lastly, look for Patrick Sharp to have an effect on tonight’s game. He was everywhere in Game 6 and damn near scored a few times. Could he finally be heating up? I hope so.

As for how to handle another Game 7, do what you feel most comfortable doing. Don’t watch it with ANYONE who isn’t going to be 100% focused on the game. If need be, watch it by yourself to avoid any distractions or interruptions. That is what I’ll be doing.

Drew Doughty said following Game 5 that the Kings couldn’t let this series get to a seventh game. After Game 6, he said the Kings won’t lose Game 7. Sounds to me like he’s scrambling for things to say and trying to pick up his team while knowing there’s some doubt in that locker room. As for the Hawks, they have been extremely calm and business-like. I prefer their approach.

If you thought either of the past two games were going to make you vomit from being so nervous, then guess what? We get to go through all of that again in just a couple hours.

I can’t wait.

Blackhawks force Game 6

139990-330-0It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but the Blackhawks won Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on home ice to avoid elimination and send the series to a sixth game in LA. Down 3-1 in the series to the Kings, the Hawks knew they had to come out in Game 5 with their best effort to avoid being sent packing, and while they didn’t quite play with what appeared to be their best effort through the first 40 minutes, the next 43 minutes looked more like it.

Brent Seabrook’s powerplay goal less than two minutes into the game provided the Hawks with a huge spark, and they somewhat took off from their. Moments later, Johnny Oduya made it 2-0 after knocking home the rebound off a shot by Patrick Kane. The Kings would score to make it 2-1, but then Brandon Saad countered that with a goal of his own to reestablish the two-goal lead. Patrick Kane ended the first period with three assists.

The Kings would eventually score the next three goals in the game to go up 4-3 on the Hawks heading into the final frame.

Knowing that they must at least end the third period tied, the Hawks came out buzzing and Ben Smith scored 1:17 into the period to tie it up at 4 apiece. The rest of the period was pretty much all Chicago, but they couldn’t get another puck by Quick, sending Game 5 to overtime.

The first overtime was quite possibly one of the best overtime periods the NHL has seen in recent memory. The Hawks and Kings traded chance after chance with one another, while both Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick made big save after big save. Anze Kopitar actually beat Crawford on a shot, but it rang off the pipe and left the game tied at 4. A second overtime period was needed for the second straight year in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final between the Hawks and Kings.

940-couture-loganOnce overtime number two began, it didn’t take long until Michal Handzus, of all people, scored the game winner on a beautiful backhand after a great feed from Brandon Saad left Zus all alone in front of Quick (Patrick Kane picked up his fourth assist of the game on the goal). Just like that, the series was sent back to LA for Game 6.

While the Blackhawks gained some obvious momentum with their thrilling OT victory in Game 5, they are still going to need to bring their absolute best effort to beat the Kings on their home ice with LA looking to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. Effort, and a few line changes could very well propel the Hawks to victory and make Game 7 a reality.

Here’s what needs to happen for the Hawks to avoid elimination again:

  • Kris Versteeg should not be dressed for Game 6. He was benched a little over halfway through the second period of Game 5 and never saw the ice again after that. He is becoming WAY too much of a liability on the ice to keep him in the lineup. Peter Regin should take his spot and play with on a line with Sharp and Handzus.
  • While I would like to see Brandon Bollig join Versteeg, it won’t happen. Quenneville won’t put Jeremy Morin (a rookie) into the lineup in an elimination game.
  • The Blackhawks’ powerplay HAS to convert in Game 6. It did in Game 5 and it provided them with a ton of momentum right off the bat.
  • Speaking of special teams, the Hawks’ PK was good in Game 5 and did not allow a goal against. That needs to happen again in LA.
  • Corey Crawford has to play his best game of the series. It’s that simple.
  • The Hawks’ defensemen have got to start boxing out Kings players in front of the net (I’m looking at you Seabrook…). There have been way too many goals scored by the Kings this series that could have been prevented if they were simply boxed out in front of Crawford and not allowed the inside position on a rebound.

Like always, I could continue going on and on, but I’ll leave it at that for now. If the Blackhawks can do those things I mentioned above, we’ll be talking about a Game 7. It won’t be easy though, as the Kings know they do not want to come back to Chicago. As Drew Doughty put it earlier today (Thursday), “We know we can’t let it go to Game 7. We need to win [Game 6].”

So do the Hawks.

Now or never

940-toews-jonathan-8colAfter dropping Game 3 to the Kings on Saturday night in LA, the Blackhawks now trail in the series two games to one. Despite playing a solid first 40 minutes in Game 3 much like they did in Game 2, the Hawks went silent for the final 20 and lost as a result. They know it’s time to step up and put together their best 60 minute effort of the season, or else they’ll be eye-to-eye with the exit door from the playoffs. It’s now or never for the Hawks.

Here is what needs to happen in Game 4 in order for the Blackhawks to even up this Western Conference Final at two games apiece.

  • It’s time that Joel Quenneville reunites Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews on the top line. I was calling for this to happen heading into Game 3, but now it’s really time to make the move. The Blackhawks need Kane to get hot, and what better way to help that happen than by putting him back on a line with Toews? Over the years during rough stretches of the playoffs, this has been Quenneville’s go-to move to get the Hawks back on the right track. He did it going into Game 4 in LA last year, and it worked beautifully. He did it in Game 4 in Boston during last year’s Stanley Cup Final, and it worked there as well. By reuniting Kane and Toews, the Kings won’t be able to blanket either player. If they do, then they’re risking leaving the other uncovered, which is not a good thing. Also, it opens up the chance to place Hossa and Sharp back on the second line together, another move that was made going into Game 4 against LA last year that worked like a charm.
  • Michal Handzus cannot center the second line any longer, or at least while Kane is on that line. If Q does put Kane on the top line and Sharp and Hossa on the second, it is possible that he leave Handzus with Sharp and Hossa. That trio did some good things last postseason. However, the lack of speed and offensive skill that you get with Handzus is so alarming that I wouldn’t mind seeing either Smith or Shaw center Sharp and Hossa, despite the success Handzus had with 10 and 81 last year. If Kane does remain on the second line with Sharp, then there is absolutely no way Handzus can stay on that line. Kane needs to play with fast, skilled players in order for him to be effective. Placing Smith or Shaw on his line as the center allows Kane to play with more speed and skill.
  • I’ve been saying this pretty much everyday, but Brandon Bollig needs to go. I don’t know that he even stepped on the ice during the entire third period of Game 3. What good is he to the team if that’s going to happen? In the meantime, you have Peter Regin and Jeremy Morin watching the game as spectators. It’s gotten to the point with Bollig where I’m starting to wonder if the front office (Stan Bowman) isn’t telling Quenneville to keep him in the lineup so that Bowman doesn’t look so bad for handing Bollig a three year extension earlier this season.
  • The Hawks’ penalty kill has to start killing off penalties. They were dominant on the PK through the first two rounds, but now they’ve allowed three powerplay goals to the Kings over the last two games.
  • The Jeff Carter line of the Kings needs to be slowed down. They have torched the Hawks this series, and it’s time Quenneville looks to shut them down. Heading into this series, the Hawks wanted to shut down the Kopitar line, which they have by matching the Toews line against them. Now it might be time to shift their focus to stopping Carter and his linemates. The only potential problem here is this: If Kane is reunited with Toews, then the Hawks lose their “shut down” line of Toews and Hossa.
  • The top line of the Hawks has been good all series, but it’s time that the other three lines quit watching and start playing as well. This series cannot be won by relying on just one line to score all of your goals.
  • Speaking of scoring, the Hawks’ powerplay cost them Game 3. They went 0-4 with the man advantage. They only have two powerplay goals on the road this postseason, which won’t get the job done. It’s time they start finding the back of the net when given the opportunity with an extra man.

Over the past 5-6 years, the Blackhawks have come up with huge win after huge win when they’ve needed it in the playoffs. Tonight calls for another one of those huge wins. If they don’t get it, then they’ll be down 3-1 and on their way out of the playoffs. They need to play a full 60 minutes in Game 4, and they need to step on the Kings’ throats once they get them in a vulnerable position in the game. Some are saying that the Hawks are simply out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years. While that may be true, if there’s one team who can find another gear and will themselves to victory, it’s the Blackhawks.

A win tonight is imperative for the Hawks.

Blackhawks – Kings thoughts

940-couture-loganWe’re through two games of the Western Conference Final already, and things are dead-locked at one game apiece. I don’t think anyone predicted either team to come away with a sweep, and we now know that we will not get a sweep from either team. After watching the first two games between the Hawks and Kings, it is obvious that these two teams match up very well with one another, and that this series has the potential to go the distance. Both sides are doing certain things very well against the other, and both sides are trying to figure out how to stop the other from being successful in specific areas.

Here’s what has stood out to me thus far.

  • The Blackhawks had Game 2 in their back pocket, but never were able to get that all important three-goal lead. A lucky goal by LA at the end of the second period and two straight powerplays to begin the third for the Kings ultimately ended up being the difference.
  • LA is having a lot of trouble keeping up with the speed of the Blackhawks. This was far more evident in Game 2 than it was in Game 1. The Kings took a number of penalties through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 due to the fact that the Hawks were skating circles around them. This is something that will not change moving forward. The Blackhawks are the faster team, and it would appear they figured out how to use their speed effectively against the Kings. This could eventually end up winning the series for the Blackhawks if they continue to dominate the pace of the game.
  • The Kings were the far better team at the faceoff circle in Game 2, and rightfully so. They are one of the deepest teams (if not the deepest) in the NHL at the center position, and all of their centers are good at the dot. Seeing as how both the Kings and Blackhawks rely so much on puck possession in order to be successful, faceoffs could become a crucial factor in determining who wins this series.
  • LA’s powerplay is good. The Blackhawks got through the first two rounds in large part because of how good they were on the PK. Neither the Blues or the Wild had a powerplay as good as that of the Kings, and so the Hawks better adjust and find a way to slow LA’s man-advantage down. They scored two massive goals on the PP in Game 2.
  • Where are the Patricks? Both Kane and Sharp have disappeared through the first two games of the WCF. Sharp, while he hasn’t done much at all this whole postseason, has seen his scoring chances vanish this series. The same can be said for Kane, who seems to draw two or three King defenders every time he enters the offensive zone with the puck. One way to maybe try and get Kane going is to put him on a line with Jonathan Toews. The Kings can’t blanket both of those guys at the same time, meaning one should see a few more scoring chances. That would open up the opportunity to reunite the Sharp-Handzus-Hossa line that was so successful during last year’s Stanley Cup run.
  • The fourth line of the Blackhawks was phenomenal during the first two periods of Game 2, even with Bollig being on that line. Ben Smith scored the Hawks’ second goal of the game off a nice tip-pass by Bollig in the neutral zone. Moving forward, those guys are going to need to continue being effective. Now that Andrew Shaw is coming back into the lineup, that means someone needs to go. My vote is for Brandon Bollig to eat some pine and let Peter Regin play on the fourth line with Smith and Kruger. Bollig’s dumb penalty early in the third period of Game 2 might have earned him the right to watch from a sky-box.

All in all, this series is completely up for grabs at this point. I wouldn’t look into how the Blackhawks lost Game 2 too much. That was such a horrible collapse that you almost can’t count it against them. They were the victim of a couple soft penalty calls and a weird bounce/no-bounce of the puck behind Corey Crawford in the third period, all of which led to Kings’ goals. Don’t forget the Blackhawks dominated portions of Game 1 and 38 minutes of Game 2.

The Kings are a weak 3-3 at home these playoffs, and the Blackhawks have been one of the best road playoff teams over the last 5 years. I have all the confidence in the world that the Hawks can win at least one of the next two games in la la land. If they can do that, they will regain home ice advantage in the series.

Western Conference Final prediction

After the first two rounds of the playoffs, I have correctly predicted the outcome of nine of the twelve series played. So far, New York knocking out Pittsburgh has been my biggest upset pick. Hopefully I can keep my hot streak going here.

56 vs. 940-couture-logan

So for the second year in a row, we get a Chicago-LA Western Conference Final. This is a matchup of the last two Stanley Cup winners, and many believe the winner of this series will go on and win the Cup again.

The Kings enter this series fresh off a dominating Game 7 win in Anaheim in which they beat the Ducks by a final of 6-2. I was anticipating the Kings to win that game, but not in that fashion. They are on a tear right now despite needing seven games to dispatch the Ducks. Marian Gaborik has done exactly what the Kings were praying he would do when they acquired him at the trade deadline a couple of months ago. He leads the playoffs with 9 goals, and also has 6 assists to go along with that. He also sits second in the league in points right now with 15, 4 points behind teammate Anze Kopitar. Speaking of Kopitar, this guy is playing in a different world right now. Neither Dallas or Anaheim could figure out a way to slow him down. To beat Chicago, the Kings will need those two guys to keep playing at their current pace. Besides those two, the Kings are one of the deeper teams in hockey at the forward position. They can roll four lines just about as well as anyone in the NHL, and all four of those lines have been valuable to them this postseason as the Kings are averaging the most goals per game of any team. Again, to beat the Blackhawks, they’ll need production from their depth guys. We all know the Kings are a top defensive team in the league, and they are proving that to us yet again right now. After allowing 22 goals in the first round to the Sharks, the Kings allowed just 15 to the Ducks in the second round. They rank fifth in the playoffs in GA/G, but would be higher had they not been asleep through the first 3 games of the first round against San Jose. Drew Doughty is having an excellent postseason defensively, and he is one of their most important players in the offensive zone as well. However, the Kings will need more defensemen than just Doughty to be good offensively if they want to advance. In goal, Jonathan Quick has been decent, but not outstanding like in years past. Going back to last year’s regular season and WCF, he has really struggled against the Hawks. Could Chicago already be in Quick’s head before the series even starts?

As for the Blackhawks, they knocked off the Wild in six games in the second round to get to this point, but it wasn’t easy. The Wild did what the Kings will try and do, and that is win the neutral zone and force the Hawks to play a chip-and-chase game. The Blackhawks need to figure out how to be more effective on the forecheck after chipping pucks into the offensive zone than they were against Minnesota. If they can find a way to use their speed against the Kings and put LA on their heels, that would be ideal for Chicago. To do that, Kane and Toews will need to lead the way yet again. However, without more production from guys like Hossa, Sharp, Saad, and the depth guys, Chicago could find themselves in trouble. They are hoping to get Andrew Shaw back at some point during this series, and they’ll need him. His physical and pesty presence on the ice is key in the playoffs, not to mention his ability to screen goalies on the powerplay. One thing that the Blackhawks absolutely need to do better this series than in the first two is taking less penalties. The Kings can be a dangerous team with the man advantage, so the Hawks won’t want to test them too often. Having said that, the Blackhawks’ penalty kill has been outstanding thus far. They lead the playoffs with a 91.3 penalty kill percentage, and now is not the time for that trend to change. A big reason for that number is the play of Corey Crawford through the first two rounds. Your goalie is your most important man on the PK, and Crawford has come up huge time and time again for the Hawks while shorthanded. This postseason, Crawford has the best save percentage and goals against average of any goalie in the league. While most people will be focusing on Quick this series (as usual), it is Crawford who has actually been the better goalie for the second postseason in a row. He’ll need the help of his defensemen against LA, and so Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, and Oduya will need to be really good to beat the Kings. How well the pairing of Hjalmarsson and Oduya plays could determine how this series pans out.

This is not the same Kings team that lost to the Blackhawks in 5 games during last year’s Western Conference Final. They are healthy now and have more firepower than they did a year ago. That said, I still don’t think the Blackhawks have played their best game(s) yet. They didn’t really come close to doing so against the Wild, yet still won that series in six games. I’d anticipate the Hawks to take their game to the next level now, and it’ll be on the Kings to try and stop them. If they do, or if the Blackhawks run out of gas after all the hockey they’ve played the last two years, LA will advance. If Chicago does begin to play their game and find some new energy, it’ll be them going on to their second straight Stanley Cup Final.

This should be a good one.

-Chicago wins series, 4-2.

 

Ducks or Kings: Who do the Hawks want next?

130107_gq_trout_aNow 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 940-couture-loganthree 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.

david_rundblad_phx_030512As 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.