Though they’ll have to wait until their Eastern Conference counterparts finish up their series, the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks will decide who represents the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Chicago completed a sweep of the Minnesota Wild on Thursday with a 4-3 win in Game 4. On Sunday, Anaheim dispatched the Calgary Flames, 3-2, in overtime for a 4-1 series victory to keep their record perfect at home during the postseason.
But because NHL rules stipulate that the conference finals can’t commence until every second round series has finished, both sides will get an extended amount of rest and time to prepare. Holding a 3-2 series lead, the Tampa Bay Lightning could eliminate the Montreal Canadiens in Tuesday’s Game 6, but should Montreal even things up they’ll host Game 7 on Thursday. Meanwhile, the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will decide their series with Game 7 on Wednesday night.
Eventually the Ducks and Blackhawks will clash, with Game 1 taking place in Anaheim likely over the weekend. And even though the Ducks were seven points clear of Chicago in the conference standings for the top seed in the West, they and head coach Bruce Boudreau might need some extra time to scout a squad that beat them two out of three times during the regular season.
The series marks the first appearance in the conference finals for Boudreau, who’s claimed seven division titles in his stints with Anaheim and the Capitals but couldn't translate that success into a deep postseason run. But before ousting Minnesota, Boudreau wouldn’t have any premature talk of a date with Chicago.
"I try not to think about it," Boudreau said to the Los Angeles Times. "I know it's cliched, but I'm just trying to think about tomorrow. Because if you think about tomorrow and it goes successfully then everything else will take care of itself and you'll have enough time to think about the other thing. So I haven't put really any thought into playing Chicago at all....
"The last two games, even three games, have been so tough that the minute you start thinking about putting the cart before the horses you're in trouble. We've got a really tough opponent who will be very, very motivated [Sunday] and if we're not completely with our minds set on them, we're in trouble."
Perhaps Boudreau can be taken as superstitious, and he simply doesn’t want to tempt fate with his squad playing so well. The Ducks swept the Winnipeg Jets and were only tested in Game 3 of that series, before coming up with a 5-4 overtime victory thanks to center Ryan Kessler’s goal in the third period to force the extra time and Richard Rakell coming up with the winner 5:12 later.
The Ducks offense, which was ranked only 11th overall during the regular season, has enjoyed stellar performances from right wing Corey Perry and center Ryan Getzlaf. Perry leads all players with 15 points during the postseason, consisting of seven goals and eight assists, and Getzlaf has distributed the puck well with 10 assists making up the majority of his 12 points.
Anaheim goalie Frederick Anderson leads all net-minders with all eight of his team’s victories, along with a 1.96 goals against average, but he’ll face a Blackhawks frontline that’s just as loaded as the one protecting him.
Chicago’s Patrick Kane is right behind Perry with 13 points, and Jonathan Toews is fifth this post season with 11 points. Kane’s scored seven goals to equal Perry, and veteran Blackhawks defender Duncan Keith owns an impressive plus-10 plus-minus.
This is also a decorated Blackhawks team that’s largely stuck together for an incredible run over the last five years, claiming two Stanley Cups in that span, and making its third straight appearance in the conference finals.
The Blackhawks' experience will take a bit of hit when the series begins, however. Defender Michal Rozsival fractured his ankle in Game 4 against the Wild, and now 24-year-old David Rundblad will take his place in the first playoff game of his young career.
"This is the time of the year you really want to play games and I've been working hard, even though we've not been playing," Rundblad said told reporters. "We've been skating a lot and still have some kind of game feeling in it. Of course, I'm really excited."
Betting Odds: Both teams have 21/10 odds of winning the Stanley Cup
Prediction: Too much experience and goal scoring make the Blackhawks the team to beat this postseason. Meanwhile, Corey Crawford should outduel Frederik Andersen.
Chicago over Anaheim in six games