The conference finals are well underway and it is becoming clear that these four teams that remain are precisely the best four teams this year in the NHL. The Anaheim Ducks look like as good a bet as anyone to take home this year’s Stanley Cup as their depth and style of play are built for this time of the year, while we got a good glimpse of what the Tampa Bay Lightning are all about with last night’s thumping of the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. However, it should surprise just about nobody should these series’ go right to the bitter end, which is often the case when the best teams in the league go head to head as playoff hockey is either won or lost by the smallest of margins. To prove that point, I will inform you that before last night’s loss, the Rangers had played in 15 consecutive one-goal games in the postseason. Considering they went to last year’s finals and could very well do so again, it just goes to show that even the team that is the most successful in the last two postseasons is winning games by just a single goal. With all that said let’s take a look at tonight’s Game 2 between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Anaheim Ducks.
Chicago Blackhawks @ Anaheim Ducks
My Pick – UNDER 5 (+115)
If Game 1 between these two Western Conference rivals taught us anything, this series is going to be a dogfight all the way to the end, which could very well be four or five games from now. Anaheim showed off their impressive depth in Game 1 as they got just a single point from their top line while the team scored four goals. They also have 11 players on their roster who have chipped in at least six points in this postseason to Chicago’s five, which seems to be putting the Ducks in the position as the better team as a whole. However, the scoring capabilities of the Blackhawks cannot be ignored which makes this pick anything but a lock, however I still am confident in the defensive abilities of the Ducks to limit the Blackhawks opportunities, especially from anyone not named Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews. Injuries and inconsistent play have forced Chicago to roll primarily with four defensemen which is providing huge minutes for the likes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, two players who have contributed significant offense in this year’s postseason. The extra minutes combined with the extremely physical nature of the Ducks is going to limit any offense these two can provide as they won’t be able to join rushes and certainly won’t have the space they were allotted in last round’s series against the Flames. Besides, Freddy Andersen has been fantastic for the Ducks all postseason while playing every single minute for Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks. He has a 1.86 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, and surrendered just a single goal in Game 1 to a team that was averaging over three per game in the playoffs coming in. While the Ducks are averaging an astounding 3.90 goals per game in the postseason, a lot of that has to do with their powerplay that is clicking at 30%. Therefore a priority of the Blackhawks entering tonight’s contest will be to stay out of the box, something I believe they can accomplish. Anaheim is also killing penalties at an 88.2% clip in the playoffs, clearly good enough to shut down what can be a very dangerous Chicago man advantage. Let’s go with the UNDER 5 for tonight’s Game 2 and watch a very tight-checking game from the Honda Center in sunny California.