CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks have played well enough to make it to the Western Conference Final, but they admit they need to take up another level to defeat the Anaheim Ducks.
Chicago won an up-tempo series in the first round against the Nashville Predators and a tight-checking series against the Minnesota Wild in the second round. The Blackhawks said they now expect a combination of both out of the Ducks, who eliminated the Calgary Flames in five games in that second-round series.
"We feel like if you progress in the [Stanley Cup Playoffs], you've got to elevate your game to beat teams that have got a lot of confidence and they've got to be playing the right way," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said after practice Monday. "They've got a lot of things going for them. You look at the first two rounds, they played extremely well. So, we've got to raise it."
The Blackhawks continued that effort in their second practice since completing a sweep of the Wild at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday. Physicality was limited, but they ended with a 3-on-3 drill to help their puck-possession game stay sharp during the time off.
Chicago again expects the puck-possession battle to be critical to the outcome of the series. Anaheim, though a little bigger up front, have the same approach. Each team likes to cycle the puck when possible and create odd-man rush attempts off strong defensive play on the forecheck.
"They're big and they're physical and protect the puck well," Blackhawks left wing Brandon Saad said. "That's part of the game. We've just got to stick to playing our game and worry about us. That's where we have our best success."
In a number of ways, this series may resemble the past two Western Conference Finals. Each of those pitted the Blackhawks against the Los Angeles Kings, who also are big, fast and physical.
"I think both teams are respectful for the other team's rush game and their ability to score and make plays," Quenneville said. "There's a lot of skill, a lot of quickness, and I think you want to make sure that you defend well, because if there's an opportunity to generate [rush attempts], I think both teams have that in their bag of tricks."
The Blackhawks against the Wild focused on staying patient for the entire game against a forechecking scheme that can frustrate turnover-prone teams. This time, the key for the Blackhawks is limiting rush attempts.
The Ducks are big but can skate and have plenty of skill to turn rushes into goals. Right wing Corey Perry has seven goals and eight assists to lead the playoffs with 15 points, and three others in Anaheim's top-six forwards are in the top 10.
"We've got to take away their rush game," Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw said. "They've got a lot of guys who like to wheel and like to score goals on the rush. That's one of their main scoring strategies, so we've got to shut that down."
The Blackhawks did a good job of it in three games against the Ducks in the regular season, when Chicago limited Anaheim to one goal in each game and won twice at Honda Center.
"We have good feelings against them, but you don't want to fall into getting complacent at all or you feel like because things have gone well that they'll automatically go well [again]," Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford said. "We'll have to battle hard and remember what it felt like in the last series to battle hard and be successful because of that and do the same thing."
The Blackhawks will try to quiet the Ducks' top two lines and make it a battle of depth up front. That was a big factor in their sweep of Minnesota, which couldn't match Chicago's third line of left wing Patrick Sharp, center Antoine Vermette and right wing Teuvo Teravainen.
"Shutting down their offense [is key]," said left wing Bryan Bickell, who was moved from the third line to second line against Minnesota. "They have a lot of [stars] like Perry, Getzlaf and some other guys [who] are stepping up on the leaderboard. I think if we shut them down, our depth will probably take over."
Author: Brian Hedger | NHL.com Correspondent