Stanley Cup Playoff Preview: Western Conference Final

For the third straight year, the Chicago Blackhawks will play a team in the Southern California area for the Western Conference championship and the chance to look really weird not touching the Clarence Campbell Bowl.

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08: The Chicago Blackhawks pose for a team photo with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after they won 4-3 in the second overtime against the Los Angeles Kings during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on June 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 08: The Chicago Blackhawks pose for a team photo with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after they won 4-3 in the second overtime against the Los Angeles Kings during Game Five of the Western Conference Finals of the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on June 8, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Only the Hawks will not play the Los Angeles Kings, their opponent the last two postseasons. The Anaheim Ducks led by Kingpin-lookalike coach Bruce Boudreau will be Chicago’s opponent. Please don't take offense to that Bruce, you know we love your talkative ways.

Both teams match one another strength-for-strength. They’re both deep at center, strong on the wing and on defense. The only quasi-question for both squads comes in goal with Corey Crawford in Chicago and Frederik Andersen with the Ducks.

With the exception of a few games against Nashville for Crawford, both have been good enough.

The Blackhawks have gone 8-2 these playoffs. The Ducks are 8-1.

Schedule
Schedule

Who will win this match up of really prolific teams? Chicago may have had the third seed in the Central Division (102 points) but they just always seem to get it done in the playoffs. The Ducks (109 points and the Western Conference’s top seed) have staked a lot on this season. This is probably their most talented team since Boudreau took over in 2011-12. The Blackhawks will be a much greater test than Winnipeg in the first round or Calgary in the second for Anaheim

Forwards

It’s an epic force battle between two Mark Messier-like leaders who have been finalists before for the Messier Leadership Award but never won. These two fine fellows are centers Ryan Getzlaf with Anaheim and Jonathan Toews with Chicago. Both middle-men have flown under the radar but have been equally prolific with 12 points in nine games for Getzlaf and 11 points in 10 games for the man they call ‘Tazer’ with Chicago. Both groups have big-time wingers in Patrick Kane (13 points in 10 games) for Chicago and playoff leading scorer Corey Perry (15 points in nine games) for Anaheim. Both teams are deep up front and have threats from top-to-bottom. Toews just does everything so incredibly well, and Kane always seems to score at key moments. Chicago gets the very slight edge in this.

ADVANTAGE: Blackhawks

Defense 

Even without Michal Rozsival, who is out for the remainder of the playoffs, I like Chicago’s defense a lot. Mostly because Duncan Keith is having an amazing postseason with 10 points in 10 games while playing 30:37 per-night on average. He’s basically Chicago’s defenseman version of Toews. Unflappable and unstoppable for the most part. Also, Brent Seabrook always finds a way to score in overtime in important games. Don’t ask, he just does it. But here’s a task for you, the reader. Do the Anaheim Ducks have a discernable top pair on defense? Do they have a discernable third pair? I’ll save you the trouble with answering that question now, no. All three pairs could be No. 1 pairs on most NHL teams. The Ducks don’t have any major stars like Keith or Seabrook on D, but they have some players with that type of potential in Hampus Lindholm (six points) and Cam Fowler (plus-7). Also, Sami Vatanen (seven points and a plus-5) is a slick skater who can move the puck. Maybe Clayton Stoner is their only weak link, but he’s not nearly as frayed as Kimmo Timonen on Chicago who gets hidden every night at 9:25 of ice-time per-contest.

ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Goalies

These two goaltenders are pretty similar.

Though Crawford got yanked in Chicago’s first-round win over Nashville, he had a .947 save percentage in the Blackhawks’ second-round win over Minnesota. He has a great team in front of him, and he’s just good enough to win, which is all the Hawks ask of him really. Andersen has a 1.96 goals against average and .925 save percentage this postseason. He hasn’t stood on his head any games, but he has played well enough to prevent Boudreau from going to the panic-move and replacing him with backup John Gibson. Until the 25-year-old Andersen shows Stanley Cup mettle, there will be some skepticism that lingers toward him. I’m not sold on Crawford, but he has won it all before.

ADVANTAGE: Blackhawks

Coaches

Boudreau has stayed the course so far. At least outwardly, he has been calm and hasn’t made any major changes that could upset team chemistry. Boudreau has been his own worst enemy in the past with some of his stronger teams, making decisions and adjustments that cried desperation at times when he had the superior squad. Chicago’s Joel Quenneville has won two Stanley Cups. He had the magic touch in the Hawks’ first-round win over Nashville with his goaltending decisions between Crawford and backup Scott Darling. He always seems to know which buttons to push with these guys. Boudreau just coached his team past the second-round for the first time in his career. The Conference Final is a different animal. He’s an excellent offensive tactician, but he hasn’t been tested by adversity yet this postseason. Quenneville has been there, and done that.

ADVANTAGE: Blackhawks

Special Teams

Anaheim has clicked at 31.0 percent on the power play this playoff. Chicago has gone at 72.7 percent on the penalty kill. These match ups vary from series-to-series, but it’s hard to stop a team that has Getzlaf, Perry, Fowler and Lindholm on the PP. The Blackhawks have hit at 20.0 percent on the power play this postseason while the Ducks’ PK is at 87.1 percent. Considering Chicago’s amount of offensive weapons, it’s hard to believe they don’t score every time they have the man-advantage.

ADVANTAGE: Ducks

Fancy Stats

Shot Attempts (SAT) differential via the NHL's enhanced stats site.

Anaheim: 69

Chicago: 39

CF% 5-on-5 via War on Ice

Anaheim: 54.9 percent

Chicago: 51.8 percent

The Nasty Bits

Chicago: Andrew Shaw gets punched on his own bench by of all people ... Mike Ribiero.

Anaheim: Corey Perry's lower body gets obliterated by Matt Stajan. He later returned and scored the elimination goal in Game 5 for the Ducks against the Calgary Flames.

Best Case Scenarios

Ducks: Andersen plays lights out. Kesler shuts down Toews, and the Ducks close out the series in Chicago in Game 6, sending Bruuuuuuuuuuce to his first Stanley Cup Final.

Blackhawks: Kane, Toews, Keith and Marian Hossa star as they always do for the Blackhawks. And Patrick Sharp's face doesn't get touched, keeping it pure and glorious.

Photo via <a href=http://www.whatsupyasieve.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/sharp-dog.jpg>What's up Ya Sieve</a>

Worst Case Scenarios

Ducks: Lose Game 1 at home by a wide margin, and Boudreau panics and goes with Gibson in Game 2. Gibson gets hurt in Game 2, and Boudreau is stuck with a shell-shocked Andersen.

Blackhawks: Both Crawford and Darling play horribly and Timonen gets exposed by extra ice-time. Sharp's face turns Medusa-like from all the physical punishment from Anaheim.

Prediction

DUCKS IN 6

The Blackhawks are playoff survivors. They always find a way. But the Ducks are so deep up and down their lineup.

- - - - - - -

Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY