Each Wednesday throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the game that intrigues him most that night. Weekes will also be assisting fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The Western Conference Final between the Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks has been amazing so far with tons of skill, tons of speed, and a lot of strength.
It's funny, as I watch the Ducks play, and I know their fans won't like this, but in many ways they remind me of the Los Angeles Kings. They also have shades of the Boston Bruins from a few years ago, but they are playing like the Kings.
This is big-man hockey the Ducks are playing. It's a big reason why they're up 3-2 in the best-of-7 series.
No soft spots. Earn your ice. Earn your space. Earn your timing. If you want separation, you're going to have to go through a body to get it. It's all big-man hockey.
It won't change in Game 6 at United Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), but the Blackhawks have to find a way to get through it or they're done.
Here is my breakdown:
Pluses: They played a C-plus game and still only lost by one goal in overtime in Game 5. They went down early, 3-0, and came all the way back. Their captain, Jonathan Toews, delivered the way he always does.
It was a tough loss for the Blackhawks in Game 5, but certainly they can take a lot out of the fact that they came all the way back and forced overtime after what was clearly such a brutal start.
The Blackhawks are not going away. They proved it in Game 5.
Another plus is they're playing at home. For them to go back to the "Madhouse on Madison" is a big plus. That place will be rocking and they'll feed off of the energy of the crowd. I think it'd be way different if they were going to Honda Center down 3-2.
And finally, it's nice to know if you're the Blackhawks that you can play the way you did in Game 5, particularly in the first period, and still put up a four-spot. That has to be great for confidence.
It's hard to earn your ice against the Ducks because they're so physical and so strong that the price to make a play against them is about three times what it would typically be just based on how hard they play. It doesn't help that the Blackhawks are shorthanded on defense.
But they came out and put a four-spot up in Game 5, gave themselves a chance in a game in which they clearly didn't have their best early on. That should give them confidence.
Minuses: They haven't played like the Blackhawks that we know on a consistent basis throughout this series. By their standards, they've been inconsistent. They have it for spurts, and then it goes away. They get it back, and then it goes away.
Now, you have to give the Ducks credit for that, but based on the expectations and standards they've set for themselves and they've established, their inconsistency is a minus for sure.
This has something to do with how much they're taxing their top four 'D', but there are lulls in the game where at times the Blackhawks just aren't generating what we know they can generate.
I have always felt when the Blackhawks decide they want to turn it up they can turn it up, but there are lulls and I am wondering, why not just turn it up.
I'm not saying if they do they're going to get easy access through the middle of the ice, that the Ducks are just going to give them a free pass, but why not turn it up and match the Ducks in whatever it may be? They're not doing enough of that.
Pluses: The Ducks dominated in the faceoff circle in Game 5, which is key against a team like the Blackhawks that does have so much skill and ability to play with the puck and hang onto it for long stretches.
Anaheim won 60 percent of the faceoffs in Game 5 (39-of-65). That'll be a big key for them again in Game 6.
Another big plus is Ryan Getzlaf, who is leading in every way and doing all he can in every way he can to get this team to where it wants to go. He is just really impressive to watch right now.
The other big plus is the points they generated from the blue line in Game 5. Anaheim had four points, including goals from Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen. They're already the leading scoring 'D' corps in the playoffs and getting them involved in Game 6 will be huge.
Minuses: The problem Anaheim had in Game 5 is it was a tale of two games. The Ducks had a
fantastic start and let their foot off the pedal. The problem is you can't do that against Chicago, so they better not do it in Game 6.
When you have the Blackhawks on the ropes you have to take full advantage. You don't have the luxury of being able to take your foot off the gas pedal. It's just not an option. You only get so many chances against Chicago.
The Ducks are playing good hockey, playing their style of game, but they certainly let the Blackhawks off the mat. Even though the Blackhawks lost the game, their confidence is still high because of that.
Getzlaf and coach Bruce Boudreau both talked about it. They were diplomatic and strategic, open and honest, but you could tell that's exactly what they were eluding to.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. Batman and/or Robin
If the Blackhawks are going to win Game 6, it'll come down to Toews and Patrick Kane. Huge game guys. You want them on your side.
2. Start of the game
Will the Ducks come out and have the same start as they did in Game 5, or will the Blackhawks come out and have their start, play Chicago hockey right off the bat?
3. Andersen needs to bounce back
Frederik Andersen has to have a bounceback game in goal for the Ducks. He knows it. There's no reason to tell him what he needs to do. He knows what he needs to do.