Unfamiliar foes make for intriguing conference final

SHARE Unfamiliar foes make for intriguing conference final

It was more than three months ago that Patrick Sharp handed out four assists and Patrick Kane scored a pair of goals as the Blackhawks trounced the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 at the Honda Center on Jan. 30. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry combined for two shots on goal and a minus-5 rating, and the Ducks mustered a mere 22 shots on Corey Crawford.

It was the third time the Hawks held the Ducks to one goal in three tries this season, including a pair of 4-1 wins and a 1-0 loss at home.

Means nothing now.

“I can’t really recall those games, they’re so long ago,” Hawks winger Bryan Bickell said.

That’s part of what makes the Western Conference final so intriguing. After playing Nashville and Minnesota in the first two rounds — two Central Division teams the Hawks barely even need to scout after all the times they’ve seen them —there’s an element of the unknown in the top-seeded Ducks, who beat the Calgary Flames in five games after sweeping the Winnipeg Jets to reach their first conference final since they won the Stanley Cup in 2007.

Everybody knows the top-sheet summary — the hulking, highly skilled top line of Patrick Maroon, Getzlaf and Perry; the tough second line featuring old Hawks nemesis Ryan Kesler; the heavy, aggressive-forechecking style; the uncanny knack for third-period comebacks; the underwhelming defense and the relatively unproven goaltending.

But there’ll be a feeling-out process the Hawks haven’t dealt with since the 2013 Stanley Cup Final against Boston.

“There’s a little bit of that unfamiliarity,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s definitely going to be part of it. You’ve got to adapt to knowing their tendencies quickly. I think we went into [the first two] series knowing you had to play a certain way. Against Anaheim, I guess you’ll have to maybe feel your way through it initially.”

The thing that stands out the most about the Ducks — literally — is their size. Only three regulars are less than 6-feet tall, and the majority of their skaters top 200 pounds. The Getzlaf line alone averages 6-3, 221 pounds. Andrew Shaw, all 5-11, 179 pounds of him, doesn’t think it’ll be an issue.

“The bigger they are, the harder they fall, I guess,” he said.

Easier said than done, though. Perry has seven goals and eight assists in nine games, and Getzlaf has two goals and 10 assists. With Bruce Boudreau expected to pit Kesler’s line against the Hawks’ top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, it’s likely going to fall on the trio of Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Shaw to chase Anaheim’s top unit in the first two games. It’s also going to be a heavy burden on the Hawks’ defensive corps, which is likely going to be down to four men late in games in the wake of Michal Rozsival’s broken ankle.

It’s similar to the pick-your-poison decision opponents have to make when facing the Hawks, with Toews and Patrick Kane on separate lines.

“The top line is something you’ve always got to be aware of,” Quenneville said.

Of course, what separates the Hawks from most teams is their depth, and such matchups could free up the Kane line and the Sharp line for favorable matchups against the Ducks’ bottom two lines.

Both teams like to push the pace, and after beating the Wild at their own, boring game, the Hawks are looking forward to getting back on the move. They might not know everything there is to know about the Ducks yet, but they know it’ll at least be more fun to play them.

“We’re excited to play a team like this, because Minnesota was kind of out of our comfort zone, playing that way,” Bickell said. “I think it falls more in our hands, the up-and-down speed, and that kind of game.”

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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