Sports

Stanley Cup playoffs: Conference finals previews

The Anaheim Ducks will play host to the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the West finals on Sunday

After beating the Kings in 2013 and falling to the eventual champions in 2014, the Blackhawks will face the Ducks for the first time in the teams’ playoff history. Both bring star power — think Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler of the Ducks vs. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa of the Blackhawks — but both get significant contributions from supporting players.

“I respect them, but I don’t give them too much respect that I’m scared of them,” Kesler said. “They’re a very good team but so are we, and we’re both in the conference finals for a reason. We both know how to win. It’s going to be a good series.”

The Blackhawks are using last season’s playoff defeat as motivation. “I don’t think anyone has ever gotten over the overtime loss in Game 7, but it feels good to be back here just a year later,” winger Patrick Sharp told reporters in Chicago. “You have to take advantage of these opportunities.”

In the East, the Rangers overcame a 3-1 Washington lead in the second round and face a stern test from the swift Lightning. “A big part of our game is going to be taking away that speed and skill, which we’ve been able to do fairly well throughout the season and in the playoffs,” Rangers Coach Alain Vigneault said Friday.

Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said his young players are writing their own history. “Every single time, this team has passed the test, and I don’t see that changing,” he said.

A look at the matchups:

(Note: Elliott successfully predicted the winner in the 12 previous series, including three in the exact number of games.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Anaheim (51-24-7; 109 points) vs. Chicago (48-28-6, 102)

Ducks in Round 1: def. Winnipeg, 4-0

Blackhawks in Round 1: def. Nashville, 4-2

Ducks in Round 2: def. Calgary, 4-1

Blackhawks in Round 2: def. Minnesota, 4-0

Power play: Season — Ducks 15.7% (28th), Blackhawks 17.6% (20th). Playoffs — Ducks 31.0% (first); Blackhawks 20.0% (fifth).

Penalty killing: Season — Ducks 81.0% (15th); Blackhawks 83.4% (10th). Playoffs — Ducks 87.1% (fifth); Blackhawks 72.7% (12th).

Top scorers: Season — Ducks, Ryan Getzlaf 25-45—70; Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews 28-38—66. Playoffs — Ducks, Corey Perry 7-8—15; Blackhawks, Patrick Kane 7-6—13.

Outlook: Ryan Kesler gives the Ducks much-needed bite, depth up the middle behind Getzlaf, and makes Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg better. The Ducks must avoid needless penalties, maintain a potent power play, and wear down the Blackhawks’ imposing but depleted defense. Kane and Toews (four goals, 11 points) have made up for Marian Hossa’s scoring one goal. Defenseman Duncan Keith’s average ice time of 30 minutes and 37 seconds might increase with Michal Rozsival sidelined by a fractured ankle. All signs point to a long, bruising series.

Pick: Ducks in seven.

Schedule

Game 1: Sunday at Anaheim, noon

Game 2: Tuesday at Anaheim, 6

Game 3: Thursday at Chicago, 5

Game 4: May 23 at Chicago, 5

Game 5: May 25 at Anaheim, 6*

Game 6: May 27 at Chicago, 5*

Game 7: May 30 at Anaheim, 5*

EASTERN CONFERENCE

N.Y. Rangers (53-22-7; 113) vs. Tampa Bay (50-24-8; 108)

Rangers in Round 1: def. Pittsburgh, 4-1

Lightning in Round 1: def. Detroit, 4-3

Rangers in Round 2: def. Wash., 4-3

Lightning in Round 2: def. Montreal, 4-2

Power play: Season — Rangers 16.8% (21st), Lightning 18.8 % (14th). Playoffs — Rangers 15.8% (11th), Lightning 18.0% (ninth).

Penalty killing: Season — Rangers 84.3% (sixth), Lightning 83.7% (eighth). Playoffs — Rangers 89.3% (fourth), Lightning 86.7% (sixth).

Top scorers: Season — Rangers, Rick Nash 42-27—69; Lightning, Steven Stamkos, 43-29—72. Playoffs — Rangers, Derick Brassard 5-3—8; Lightning, Tyler Johnson, 8-4—12.

Outlook: The Rangers rallied past Washington on the clutch play of Derek Stepan (three goals, eight points), goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (1.60, .944) and a rugged defense. They will have to stop Tampa Bay’s “triplets,” the line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson (six goals in the first round) and Nikita Kucherov (six goals in the second round). Forward Ryan Callahan had an appendectomy Monday but might play Saturday. Goalie Ben Bishop has been impressive in his first playoffs (1.81, .931) but the Rangers are deeper overall.

Pick: Rangers in six.

Schedule

Game 1: Saturday at New York, 10 a.m.

Game 2: Monday at New York, 5

Game 3: Wednesday at Tampa Bay, 5

Game 4: Friday at Tampa Bay, 5

Game 5: May 24 at New York, 5*

Game 6: May 26 at Tampa Bay, 5*

Game 7: May 29 at New York, 5*

*if necessary; Times PDT, p.m. unless noted

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