Key Matchup-

The focus of the Blues will be to shut down Art Ross winner Patrick Kane, who finished with a career-high 46 goals and 60 assists, and that responsibility will fall to Alex Pietrangelo. Kane prefers the control of having the puck as much as possible, and it will be Pietrangelo who will need to manipulate Kane into rushing shots he isn’t ready to take.

Chicago Blackhawks-

Winning Formula: 

The Blackhawks are stacked with talent with the likes of offensive weapon Patrick Kane, phenomenal two-way center Jonathan Toews, and premier defenseman Duncan Keith. Corey Crawford remains at the top of his game in the crease. Added defense comes from the skilled Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov on Keith’s line adding more dimension to the team’s defensive game. Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise, and Tomas Fleischmann add new depth to an already tremendous team and it will be interesting to see how Joel Quenneville chooses to use them throughout the series.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: 

The Blackhawks are a modern day dynasty with three Stanley Cup wins since 2010, but has not won in two years. They have players from those previous wins in their ranks, but the question is if it’s been too much; too much play and pressure taking a toll on a star studded team. The Hawks have averaged 16.7 playoff games per season since 2009-10, and Kane, Toews, Keith, Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa have been roster pillars for each of those runs. The playoffs mean less time off of arguably the most physically and mentally demanding major sport in the world.

St Louis Blues-

Winning Formula:

This is not a David vs Goliath series. The Blues are a force to be reckoned with. Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri provide youth and jump on the wings. David Backes, Colton Parayko, Troy Brouwer add size to the team. Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera are playmakers. Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmeester make up a blueline that is both strong and mobile and able to manipulate adversaries; while every line plays some degree of a defensive game including the team’s offensive lines. St Louis has never finished worse than seventh in goals against since Ken Hitchcock took over coaching duties in 2011-12.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: 

St. Louis averages the fewest goals per game of any franchise in playoff contention. The team has dealt with injuries, players getting older such as Backes, and players like Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin being too inexperienced to be true weapons in a battle such as this. Criticism is aimed at GM Doug Armstrong who did not address the glaring scoring issues this team has at the trade deadline. Jake Allen in the crease has come into his own when Brian Elliot wasn’t in the position over the last season, but looking at his .904 save percentage in the 2015 playoffs, losing four of six starts it’s understood that he cannot perform that way in this series if the Blues want a shot at round two, lucky for the St Louis they have Elliot on hand if Allen doesn’t live up to his last season’s performance.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6

 

Follow us on Twitter @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey

grail

SERIES O – A2 vs. C3 TIME (ET) Chicago Blackhawks vs. Tampa By Lightning NETWORKS
Wednesday, June 3 8 p.m. Chicago at Tampa Bay NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, June 6 7:15 p.m. Chicago at Tampa Bay NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, June 8 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at Chicago NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, June 10 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at Chicago NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, June 13 8 p.m. Chicago at Tampa Bay NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
*Monday, June 15 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at Chicago NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
*Wednesday, June 17 8 p.m. Chicago at Tampa Bay NBC, CBC, TVA Sports

* if necessary

PhotoGrid_1431864931005

The Anaheim Ducks have earned their way to the Western Conference Final for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2007 while the Chicago Blackhawks are back in the 3rd Round for the fifth time in seven seasons. Both teams benefit from strong leadership by their captains, Ryan Getzlaf of the Ducks and Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks, both captains center their respective team’s top-line, produce offensively and keep their teams motivated. Forward Corey Perry is leading the post season with 15 points while Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane is second with 13. Both teams boast formidable bluelines and strong goaltending. Chicago won two of three games against Anaheim during the regular season.

newsletter_us

Chicago Blackhawks-

How they got to the Western Conference Final: The Blackhawks needed 10 games to make it this far, six games to defeat the Nashville Predators in the first round and a sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the second. Kane has a point in seven straight games and scored five goals in four games in the 2nd round. In the post season Toews has 11 points, left wing Patrick Sharp has nine points, and right wing Marian Hossa has eight points proving that this team can light the lamp. In the second period of Game 4 against the Wild Michal Rozsival sustained a broken ankle which has forced Chicago coach, Quenneville, to make changes to his defense including adding David Rundblad to the lineup for his playoff debut. Duncan Keith will get more ice time due to the defensive changes despite already averaging 30:37, but he has been great for the team tallying two goals and eight assists. Corey Crawford stepped up in the 2nd round after faltering in the crease in the 1st. He made 30 saves in 1-0, Game 3 shutout of the Wild, but backup Scott Darling is ready to play if Crawford loses his intensity and resolve. Chicago’s power play has climbed to a 20.0 percent success rate, second to the Ducks out of teams still remaining in these playoffs.

How they can get to the Stanley Cup Final: The penalty kill remains a problem for the Blackhawks, but they make up for that in speed, ability to move the puck, keep possession, and skill at finding the back of the net. The Blackhawks will need to utilize defensive ice time as much as possible since the defensemen will be racking up more minutes than normal and need to use their energy wisely. The Ducks are averaging 33.8 shots per game in the post season so Crawford will need to stay focused and stand on his head when needed, but he has shown that he can do just that. Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, Sharp, Seabrook and Brandon Saad will all need to continue producing offensively. This team has gotten plenty of rest since they swept the Wild and though that can hurt a team’s momentum if utilized well the Blackhawks can enter the Western Conference Final focused and well prepared.

051415-West-Ducks-Blackhawks_vadapt_620_high_0

Anaheim Ducks-

How they got to the Western Conference Final: The Ducks needed nine games to pass the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames in the 1st and 2nd rounds. Getzlaf and Perry have combined for 27 points in nine games, four of which were power-play goals. Ryan Kesler has been immensely valuable on the forecheck. Matt Beleskey set a Ducks playoff record scoring in five straight games in the second round, while Jakob Silfverberg has three multipoint games, and Patrick Maroon has four goals. Anaheim’s defensemen have combined for 29 points in the playoffs. 2007 Stanley Cup team veteran, Francois Beauchemin, has six points in nine games, and passed Scott Niedermayer as the Ducks’ all-time playoff scoring leader among defensemen. Cam Fowler and Simon Despres are a combined plus-13 with four penalty minutes. Sami Vatanen leads Ducks defensemen with seven points. The Ducks are 9-for-29 on the power play, improving after being ranked 28th in the regular season. Beauchemin, Despres, Fowler, Getzlaf, Kesler, Silfverberg and Thompson have been fantastic on the PK all post-season. Frederik Andersen has a 1.96 goals-against average and a save percentage of .925 through nine games.

How they can get to the Stanley Cup Final: The Getzlaf, Perry, and Maroon line will need to continue to produce and control the puck challenging the Blackhawk defensemen. Getzlaf has been great on the faceoff and puck possession is key in playoff hockey. Expect Jakob Silfverberg and Andrew Cogliano to play the way they did against the Jets when they played a big part in sweeping the series. This team is not great with faster teams so the Blackhawks will be a big hurdle for them. Defense will need to stay sharp and Kesler will need to provide heavily on the forecheck. Andersen needs to continue making big saves in the crease; he wasn’t heavily tested in the previous rounds and Chicago is a much better team when it comes to puck possession than those he’s faced so far in these playoffs; he will need to step up and shut them down.

Read our Eastern Conference Final preview.

View the conference finals schedule.

Follow  @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey on Twitter

 

grail

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL MATCHUP
SERIES M – M1 vs. A2 TIME (ET) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Rangers NETWORKS
Saturday, May 16 1 p.m. Tampa Bay at NY Rangers NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Monday, May 18 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Wednesday, May 20 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Tampa Bay NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Friday, May 22 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Tampa Bay NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Sunday, May 24 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Tuesday, May 26 8 p.m. NY Rangers at Tampa Bay NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Friday, May 29 8 p.m. Tampa Bay at NY Rangers NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL MATCHUP
SERIES N – P1 vs. C3 TIME (ET) Chicago Blackhawks vs. Anaheim Ducks NETWORKS
Sunday, May 17 3 p.m. Chicago at Anaheim NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
Tuesday, May 19 9 p.m. Chicago at Anaheim NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Thursday, May 21 8 p.m. Anaheim at Chicago NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
Saturday, May 23 8 p.m. Anaheim at Chicago NBC, CBC, TVA Sports
*Monday, May 25 9 p.m. Chicago at Anaheim NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Wednesday, May 27 8 p.m. Anaheim at Chicago NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports
*Saturday, May 30 8 p.m. Chicago at Anaheim NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports

* – if necessary TBD – To be determined

 

newsletter_usstore2

PhotoGrid_1430511496694

Minnesota Wild –

Learning from Round 1: The top line of Parise, Granlund, and Pominville combined for 17 points against St. Louis, and they will need to keep that momentum going into the 2nd Round with Chicago. The Wild finished 4-of-12 with the man-advantage and lead the League with 33.3 percent power-play efficiency in six games; this is a phenomenal change after a regular season of weakness in that area.

Winning Formula: The Wild has had consistency on all lines, and has had some stellar individual efforts. Eight players scored at least one goal in their first matchup; Zach Parise led the Wild with seven points (three goals), and Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund, Nino Niederreiter and captain Mikko Koivu each had at least three points. The Wild has a good offensive force, and Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon and Scandella on defense as well as Dubnyk in the crease can keep this team in the fight. Minnesota’s power play ranked in the bottom five during the regular season, but was exceptional against the Blues. The penalty-killing unit finished 1st in the NHL during the regular season and went 9-of-11 (81.8 percent) in the 1st Round. Playing significant roles on the PK were defensemen Suter, Brodin, Spurgeon, and Scandella, and forwards Koivu, Brodziak and Cooke.

store2

Chicago Blackhawks –

Learning from Round 1: In the first round Chicago pulled Crawford in Game 1, and Darling continued to play until Crawford relieved him in Game 6 which contributed to the team moving on to the 2nd Round. It’s important that this team uses all its resources and that includes switching goaltending up when the current man in the crease isn’t being effective. They learned that their fourth line was more effective at winning puck battles when center Marcus Kruger was flanked by Andrew Desjardins at left wing and Andrew Shaw on the right. Timonen and Rozsival have moments when they contribute on defense, but their lapses sometimes lead to scoring chances for the opposing team.  Rozsival finished with a minus-2 rating and gave the puck away too often. The Hawks had the one of the best PK units in the league going into the playoffs, but not in the 1st Round; they allowed six goals in 22 times shorthanded against Nashville for a 72.7 percent success rate tied for 13th among the 16 playoff teams. With the backsliding of their effectiveness on their penalty kill they will need to be better on the power play for their special teams to be effective, but their power play only scored three goals in 19 chances (15.8 percent) in the 1st round.

Winning Formula: Producing offense is a major component for the Blackhawks; Jonathan Toews is tied for the scoring lead in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs with eight points (three goals, five assists), and Kane has seven points (two goals, five assists). Patrick Sharp had a strong opening series with three goals and two assists, and he’s tied with right wing Marian Hossa for the Chicago lead in shots on goal (24). Hossa hasn’t scored, but has five assists. This team doesn’t have as much depth on the blueline as they did when they won the Stanley Cup in 2010 or 2013, but Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya still play fast and smart. Keith made goals that decided Game 1 in double overtime, and Game 6 late in the third period. Seabrook had a goal that ended Game 4 one minute into triple overtime for a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. They need to strengthen their PK back to how it was in the regular season and keep calm dealing with the Wild’s forecheck.

Goalie Matchup: Crawford will be starting Game 1. In the first round Crawford began the postseason as the starter, allowed nine goals in his first four periods, and was replaced by Darling. In Game 5 Darling allowed four goals in a 5-2 loss and let in three more in the first period of Game 6 before getting pulled in favor of Crawford who earned the win. Crawford didn’t allow a goal on 13 shots, just as Darling didn’t allow a goal on 42 shots in relief to win Game 1 in double overtime. Prior to the Round 1 series, Crawford had never been pulled from a playoff start by Quenneville and started 57 straight postseason games for the Blackhawks prior to Darling’s start in Game 3. Darling has the better 2.21 goals-against average and .936 save percentage while Crawford in 4.19 goals-against average and has a .850 save percentage. Playing in the crease for Minnesota, Dubnyk, finished the opening round with a 2.32 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. After allowing six goals on 17 shots and being replaced by Kuemper late in the second period of a 6-1 loss in Game 4, Dubnyk rebounded with 36 saves in a 4-1 victory in Game 5 in St. Louis. The team seems to be feeding off of his confidence and ability to thrive under pressure. Dubnyk made saves on 66 of the final 68 shots he faced in Games 5 and 6 after being pulled in the Game 4 loss. In the Game 6 clincher, Dubnyk made 14 saves in the second period and 12 in the third to close the series. In the regular season Dubnyk was 27-9-2 with a 1.78 GAA, .936 save percentage and five shutouts in 38 straight starts. Of the losses, seven were by one goal and two were in a shootout.

Follow @TristinHuntamer Twitter.

Analysis from the first round for Chicago and Minnesota‘s matchups.

PhotoGrid_1429136814919

Head-to-Head Season Stats
Stats
Predators
Blackhawks
Record

1-1-2

3-1-0

Goals

9

11

Shot Attempts

179

182

 

Season Stats
 
Predators
Blackhawks
Rank
Stats
Rank
Stats
Shot Attempts For/60

2

58.1 4

58.0

Shot Attempts Against/60

14

51.4 7

49.9

Shot Attempt %

8

53.1 4

53.7

Goals For/60

5

2.51 17

2.25

Goals Against/60

4

1.91 6

1.93

Goal %

1

56.9 8

53.8

Shooting %

8

8.1 28

6.8

Save %

4

93.1 2

93.5

Powerplay

25

16.2 20

17.6

Penalty Kill

18

80.8 10

83.4

 

Key Matchup-

Duncan Keith vs. Shea Weber: Two of Canada’s best defensemen are going head-to-head and they are evenly matched. Since Ryan Suter left Nashville, Weber’s numbers haven’t been as good as they were; though he still looks good on the ice. Weber has a higher relative goal rate meaning he may have some effect on the quality of chances, but Nashville generally controls the puck more when Weber is on the bench. He also allows almost six more shot attempts than Keith per hour.

Nashville Predators-

Winning Formula: Peter Laviolette transformed Nashville from a counterstrike team into an attacking team. The result was the Predators best goal production in four years. Rookie Filip Forsberg has the makings of a future superstar. Their offense is a team effort and doesn’t rely on one player to get things done. This new style of play has made Nashville a better possession team, giving them more opportunities, and keeping the other team from scoring chances. Goalie Pekka Rinne bounced back from his 2013-14 hip problems and has had a great year. Rinne’s 6’5” size, agility; unreal glove hand, puck handling abilities, skill at controlling the rebound, demeanor, and general ability to intimidate a shooter all plays a part in why he is phenomenal when he is healthy.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:  Nashville’s first line is evolving and provides something closer to second-line production, especially factoring in how much they’ve regressed in the second half of the season. Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro averaged about a point per game in the first half of the season, but have since cooled. James Neal, although a skilled power forward, isn’t producing the way he used to for the Penguins. Their blueline is amazing, but the team relies on them to score too much and it takes away from what they are there to do. Rinne has been dealing with knee problems the past couple months, and he hasn’t shouldered a playoff workload since 2012. His second half numbers, while good, have slipped in the second half of the season.

Chicago Blackhawks-

Winning Formula: If experience counts then this team is golden as the majority of their 2013 Stanley Cup roster is intact. They have resolve and thrive under pressure. They are strong defensively. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook push play toward the other team’s net. Chicago has tremendous depth and scores consistently at even strength, and this team hits hard.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:  Patrick Kane is expected to return for the first round a few weeks earlier than expected. He was out with a broken collarbone. If he is fully healed and not feeling the effects of his injury he will be a great asset to the Blackhawks as he is elite on all levels offensively. The power play has suffered in his absence too. Toews has been heavily leaned on to score and even with Kane set to return, there is no telling if he is healthy enough to help the team. Thoughout the season, goaltender Corey Crawford only had to be good, not great. He will have to be great to win in the playoffs.

Follow me @TristinHuntamer