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Special teams will decide Ducks-Blackhawks series

(Nam Y. Huh, File/AP)

The Chicago Blackhawks are once again in the Western Conference finals and are looking for their third Stanley Cup title in six seasons. Their opponent, the Anaheim Ducks, are 8-1 in the postseason after sweeping Winnipeg and dispatching a feisty Calgary team in five games.

Both teams feature a plethora of star power.

The Blackhawks’ top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa can drive puck possession during even strength (57.7 percent of shot attempts in their favor) and score (3.23 goals per 60 minutes), with size that is tough to defend.

“When we’re on top of our game, we all have some size out there, protecting the puck and playing in [the offensive] zone, getting pucks to the net and making plays down low,” Saad told NHL.com. “That’s our game. We don’t want to get involved in [rush] attacks. We have some skill on our line, too, so we can do that, but with three big bodies we like to play down low.”

Rounding out Chicago’s top nine are battle-tested forwards Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. Kane leads the team in scoring (seven goals and six assists) while Sharp is second on the team to Hossa in shots on net, with four goals and nine points of his own.

On the other side of the ice: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler of Anaheim.

Perry is the NHL’s leading playoff scorer with 15 points in just nine games; Getzlaf and Kesler both put more than 56 percent of even-strength shot attempts in their team’s favor when they are on the ice.

Defensively, it is hard to find a better blueliner than Chicago’s Duncan Keith, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, who has 10 points (two goals and eight assists) with two game-winning tallies. But the Ducks have Frederick Anderson in net, who has stopped 44 of the 51 “high-danger” shots he has faced this postseason (0.8627 save percentage) — a rate second only to Washington’s netminder Braden Holtby (0.8632 save percentage) among goalies with at least 500 postseason minutes played.

That’s why this series will come down to special teams, specifically, the Ducks’ power play against the Blackhawks’ penalty kill.

The Ducks lead the playoffs with a 31 percent success rate on the power play, which is nearly double their regular-season efficiency. That type of production isn’t sustainable, but it is encouraging that the Ducks have generated more scoring chances per two minutes of power-play time in the playoffs (1.87) than they did during the regular season (1.67). Against Calgary that ballooned to 2.7 scoring chances per two minutes of power-play time, scoring five goals down low, up close and personal to the Flames’ goaltenders.

The Blackhawks are seeing their penalty kill in transition. They have allowed nine goals against in the 33 times they have been shorthanded (72.7 percent efficiency, fifth lowest among playoff teams) with just four of those classified as “high-danger” shots. If the Hawks are not able to clear the crease and make it a little easier on goaltender Corey Crawford, they may find themselves home earlier than they want to be.

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