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Eastern Conference finals: Anaheim Ducks vs. Chicago Blackhawks

With all due respect to St. Louis, Minnesota and Nashville, the Western Conference finals between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks is as good as it gets.

Both these teams have earned their way here. Chicago is 8-2 in the postseason, including a second-round sweep of the Minnesota Wild. The Ducks arrive with an 8-1 postseason record after sweeping Winnipeg and dispatching a plucky Calgary team in five games.

But the Blackhawks and Ducks have reached this point playing very different styles.

The Blackhawks rely on skill and speed up and down the lineup, which allows them to track down the puck and keep it. And they're a battle-tested lineup that has won two Stanley Cups (2010, 2013) and appeared in another conference finals (2014) in the past five years.

The Ducks, meanwhile, are a big, physical team built more in the image of the Los Angeles Kings. They're happy to dump the puck in and then punishingly retrieve it before, usually, heaving it into the opposing goal. The Ducks may not have the playoff experience of Chicago, but they have the hunger of a team that has been knocked down a time or two in recent playoff years and is ready for the final steps toward a championship.

This series should be a rollicking affair, and our guess is the winner will be the favorite to win the Stanley Cup.

Fancy stats

The Blackhawks are a more traditional puck-possession team, with skilled players like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa, all of whom can control the puck for long periods of time. The Ducks, meanwhile, are a bigger, more physical team that likes to dump the puck into the offensive zone and then crash and bang until they get it back.

Looking at the advanced stat SAT, which factors in shots for and against and blocked shots for and against, the Ducks are second in the NHL this playoff spring while Chicago is fifth. On an individual basis, defending Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith of the Blackhawks has the top SAT among players on both teams with a 60 rating, while Hampus Lindholm, the Ducks' emerging second-year defender, tops his team with a 49.

The Ducks have a strong SAT when they are behind, which isn't a surprise given that they've won games in which they've trailed an amazing six times this spring. Also in their favor are their 3.89 goals per game and their 31 percent power-play percentage, both of which lead all playoff teams.

Anaheim has outscored opponents 16-3 in the third period thus far this spring. On an individual basis, Ryan Kesler's domination in the faceoff circle is not to be understated -- at 63.7 percent, far and away the best of any full-time center in the playoffs.

Chicago, meanwhile, has been vulnerable when shorthanded, allowing at least one power-play goal in eight games this spring. But the Hawks rank second in goals per game among playoff teams that are still alive, which means the Ducks' team defense and goaltending will be under constant pressure.

Gut check
For us, it's this: Will the Ducks' hunger -- the desire of guys like Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, who were kids when Anaheim won it all in 2007 -- trump the battle-tested Blackhawks, who simply know how to get it done when it matters?

Everywhere you look there are intriguing battle lines. Getzlaf, the Ducks' captain, and his counterpart, Jonathan Toews, won gold medals together with Canada in 2010 and 2014; now they'll go toe-to-toe for a ticket to the finals. They might be the best two centers on the planet right now. Patrick Kane wasn't even supposed to be playing, yet he has 13 points, including seven goals, behind only Perry among NHL playoff scorers. Will the Ducks' formidable shutdown unit of Kesler, Jakob Silfverberg and Matt Beleskey get the assignment of shadowing Kane's line?

And what of the Blackhawks' blue line? Chicago's defense was not particularly deep to start with, and now it will be without Michal Rozsival for the rest of the season after he broke his ankle in an ugly fall against Minnesota. David Rundblad will fill in for Rozsival, but with Kimmo Timonen playing only 9:25 per night, there will be additional pressure on Keith, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Given the physical nature of the Ducks' play, how does that play out over what promises to be a long series?

MVP
How good has Keith been for the Chicago Blackhawks? The reigning Norris Trophy winner has 10 points on two goals and eight assists, with both his goals counting as game-winners. His play this spring is reinforcing his status as the greatest Blackhawks defenseman of all time. Meanwhile, while Perry is lighting it up for the Ducks with 15 points, we have been wowed by the play of Getzlaf. He has been a horse, plain and simple. Dare we say he is a man on a mission?

Secret weapon
Blackhawks forward Teuvo Teravainen isn't really a secret, but he's shown the ability to rise to the occasion when coach Joel Quenneville gives him the nod. Teravainen has three points in six games this spring and might get more scoring opportunities, as we figure this is a series where the Blackhawks must ramp up their offense to keep pace with the Ducks.

Meanwhile, Patrick Maroon has become an integral part of the Ducks' arsenal, skating on the same line as Perry and Getzlaf. Maroon has good hands and has been a physically imposing presence in front of the opposing goaltender. This has been a breakout spring for Maroon, who has four goals and an assist.

The skinny
It's a tough call, but I predicted an Anaheim Stanley Cup championship in September and will not waver at this point. I figure Frederik Andersen and Corey Crawford are even in goal, but I love the Ducks' balance up front and along the blue line.

Ducks in 7

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