Patrick Kane

Freddie’s ready: Ducks beat Blackhawks in Game 1

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Some consider Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen a “question mark” as the team finally tries to make good on regular-season dominance. In Game 1 of the 2015 Western Conference Final, Andersen was instead the difference-maker.

Chicago carried the play for the first two periods on Sunday, generating a 25-15 shot advantage through the first 40 minutes of the contest.

Andersen was on top of the action, making 32 saves and only allowing a Brad Richards goal off a turnover all night.

He made some big saves, including this sensational stick stop on Patrick Kane:

Anaheim took a 2-1 lead into the final frame, and people made mention of how great the Ducks are at closing out games:

That certainly held true on Sunday (you can bump that playoff stat to 4-1 now), as the Ducks survived two straight penalty calls, generated a 12-8 shot edge and scored two tallies to end any threat of a Blackhawks comeback.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to doubt the Ducks as genuine contenders, as they now have a 1-0 series lead and a 9-1 record in this postseason.

They also proved that they can beat Chicago at the Duck Pond:

The Blackhawks have to be frustrated to see some dominant play go to waste, although the biggest headache might be their defensive imbalance. Michal Rozsival’s absence is being felt, as David Rundblad had a rough game and Kimmo Timonen barely played (5:15 TOI).

Still, just about every team sees some flaws in the salary cap era. It’s just one game, and the Blackhawks have been through just about everything over the last several years.

Video: Andersen makes an incredible stick save

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Blackhawks’ sniper Patrick Kane had the game’s first quality scoring chance early in the first period.

The 26-year-old, who has seven goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games, capitalized on a Ryan Getzlaf turnover, but Frederik Andersen bailed his captain out with an incredible stick save.

Have a look:

Hampus Lindholm has since given the Ducks a 1-0 lead with his second goal of the playoffs.

Kesler, Toews set to renew rivalry

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Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews will renew their rivalry when the Western Conference Final gets going this afternoon.

The pair got acquainted with one another as the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks met in the playoffs three straight years.

Now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Kesler figures the animosity will pick up right where it left off.

“If I play against him in this series, I’m sure we won’t hug each other on the dot — let’s just say that,” Kesler said per the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 19 games over the three playoff series between the Hawks and Canucks, Toews scored seven goals and 20 points while Kesler had two goals and 11 points.

“[Kesler] is definitely a player you respect and challenge yourself against,” Toews said. “Most of all he plays a smart, gritty game defensively. He tries to take other top players off their game. I think our guys know he’s one of those guys we have to be concerned with — try to not let him have an easy time with us and let him play his game too easily.”

Patrick Kane has got to know Kesler as the pair were teammates on two U.S. Olympic teams and sees similarities between the two centers.

“He kind of reminds me of Jonny a little bit as a player,” said Kane. “He’s kind of that two-way centerman, easy to play with; is always looking to get the puck in your hands, too.”

Kesler has four goals and five assists in nine playoff games this season while Toews has four goals and seven assists in 10 games.

“Toews is a good player,” Kesler said. “We match up against each other. When you play the same guy for six, seven games in a row, obviously there’s going to be a rivalry there.”

Related: Ducks have embraced hard practices as long layoff nears end

Rangers are 2/1 Cup favorites; Lundqvist favored to win Conn Smythe

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The latest Stanley Cup odds, courtesy online bookmaker Bovada:

New York Rangers — 2/1
Chicago Blackhawks — 11/5
Anaheim Ducks — 12/5
Tampa Bay Lightning — 19/4

Now, there’s always some smart guy who mentions it in the comments section, so we might as well beat him to the punch:

No, the odds aren’t always exactly what the oddsmakers believe to be 100-percent true. In this case, there’s possibly been a slight adjustment based on the size of New York’s fan base compared to, say, Tampa Bay’s. Generally, people like to bet on their favorite teams, and an Original Six team like the Rangers, in a big city like New York, has a lot of fans.

Then again, maybe Tampa Bay’s the long shot of the four because the oddsmakers just don’t think the Lightning have been very good in the playoffs. (Which they really haven’t been.)

Anyway, here are the Conn Smythe Trophy favorites:

Henrik Lundqvist — 4/1
Patrick Kane — 17/2
Corey Perry — 9/1
Jonathan Toews — 19/2

Size matchup will be one to watch when Blackhawks meet Ducks

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According to the NHL’s media website, the Chicago Blackhawks have an average weight of 197.3 pounds. Kris Versteeg is the lightest at 176 pounds, which is only slightly lighter than Patrick Kane (177), Teuvo Teravainen (178), and Andrew Shaw (179). There are a few heavy skaters, like Bryan Bickell (223) and Brent Seabrook (220), but for the most part, this is not a gigantic team we’re talking about.

And then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, the Blackhawks’ next opponent, who boast an average weight of 207.5 pounds. Sure, Sami Vatanen, at just 180 pounds, isn’t very heavy, but Patrick Maroon (231), Ryan Getzlaf (218), and Corey Perry (213) definitely are. Did we mention those three play on the same line?

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is fully cognizant of the size disparity between the two teams. He’s not too worried about it, though.

“I think size and talent is great. But size alone is not the answer,” Bowman told the Sun-Times. “We’ve seen that more than ever with the modern game here in the last few years. It’s never been more friendly for a smaller player to play because it’s really a skill game now. If you have size in addition to that, that’s great. We like big players, too. We don’t have an aversion to that at all. Anaheim does it really well with the players they have. But there’s not one way to win.”

That being said, the size matchup will certainly be one to watch when the ‘Hawks and Ducks kick things off in the Western Conference finals. The undersized Flames had all sorts of trouble handling the big Ducks in their second-round series.

Here’s but one example of what size and strength can do:

The key for the Blackhawks will be to avoid getting cornered like that. The solution? Quick feet. Quick decisions. Quick passes. Or, as Mike Babcock likes to say, “Play fast.”

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, they’re fully capable of doing just that — and that starts with their star defenseman, Duncan Keith.

Save for the goalies, no player is likely to get more ice time in this series than the “freak” Keith, and no player’s performance may be more pivotal. Expect the Ducks to do everything they can to get to him. 

Just don’t expect them to find it easy.

Kings forward Dustin Brown, one of the NHL’s best at getting in on the forecheck, knows what it’s like to try and hunt down Keith.

“For me, it’s just his skating ability,” said Brown. “He has the ability to get himself out of trouble. He’s a real big part of that team from the back end. He’s one of those guys that plays against top guys but also has the offensive side of the game. He’s the best offensive guy on the back end and he really helps those forwards with their transition game because of his heads-up play and he moves the puck really quick.”