As they attempt to get to their third Stanley Cup Final in the last six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks will face a stern test in this round of the postseason as they battle the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference Final.
The challenge will not be easy as they have to open the series on the road in an arena the Ducks have not lost in so far this postseason, but we have four key things that the Blackhawks need to do in order to win this series and continue their quest for a Stanley Cup championship.
Avoid Penalties As Much As Possible
While this could border on a “well, duh” key to success, the Blackhawks would be well-advised to heed this warning. The Ducks have the league’s best power play so far in the postseason, scoring on 31 percent of their man-advantage chances. A big part of the reason for that success has been Corey Perry, who has two goals and two assists on the power play. Matt Beleskey has also chipped in with two tallies for Anaheim.
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks have only killed off 72.6 percent of their penalties so far during the playoffs, and that is far and away the worst of any of the four remaining postseason teams. They’ll have to improve on that number as well, but the real key will be to stay disciplined against a quick and physical Anaheim team as this series gets underway.
Find the Balance With Rundblad and Timonen
With Michal Rozsival’s ankle injury taking him out of the lineup, the Blackhawks will certainly lean even more heavily on their top four defensemen during this series, with Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson bearing the brunt of the extra minutes that will have to be doled out.
In a perfect world, those minutes would just go to David Rundblad and Kimmo Timonen, but neither player is really capable of playing 20 minutes-plus a night for the Hawks. Joel Quenneville is going to have to rest the top four guys eventually in this series, but he has to be careful not to be too over-reliant on players that haven’t proven they can handle the pressures of postseason hockey so far this year.
Win the Matchup Battle on Home Ice
One of the Ducks’ biggest strengths is that their top two forward lines are both incredibly potent and dangerous. Everyone knows about Perry and Ryan Getzlaf on the top line, but the second line has been equally tough for Anaheim, with Ryan Kesler really rounding into form thus far in the postseason.
The Blackhawks do have the defensive lines capable of countering those two groups, and when the series heads back to the United Center, they’ll have to make sure they stay diligent in getting the matchups they want. Whether it’s the Jonathan Toews-led first line or Marcus Kruger’s fourth line, the Hawks have to take advantage of their ability to dictate matchups on home ice, and that could go a long way toward securing victories in Chicago.
Pressure Andersen in All Areas
So far this postseason, Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen has been largely untested by the Ducks’ first two opponents, but he’s lived up to the task when needed and has secured the net over veterans Jason Labarbera and John Gibson.
For the Blackhawks to find success in this series, they have to make it a point to make Andersen’s life as uncomfortable as possible. Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw have to get to the front of the net to create traffic. Keith and Brent Seabrook have to be ready and willing to fire shots in from the point. Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad have to carry the puck into the zone with speed to force Andersen to make decisions on his positioning in the crease.
Whatever the Blackhawks can do to throw Andersen off balance, they’ve got to execute. They have the capability to do well with all of these tactics, and it will be crucial to their success.