Most of the national media predicted that the Ducks would beat the Flames in five games, but the Ducks will meet their first seasoned and formidable playoff opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks. Let's see those "expert" predictions:
About the Ducks: "The Ducks rely heavily on three mobile puck movers on their back end: Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Sami Vatanen, who’s been particularly strong this spring. All three are capable of leading the rush or slyly joining in as the trailer. That ability to expand the attack to four or even five skaters has a way of throwing the opposing defense into disarray and, if nothing else, keeping the puck 200 feet away from goalie Frederik Andersen. There’s risk involved, but their skating ability is the great equalizer. So is putting the puck into the net. As a group, they’ve combined for 26 points through two rounds."
About the Hawks: "Anaheim can’t quite match the depth of Chicago’s forwards. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane give the Hawks the 1-2 punch to counter Perry-Getzlaf. Amazing to think that Kane, who leads the team with seven goals and 13 points, was only now supposed to be coming back to the lineup after injuring his shoulder. Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad add size and finishing touch to the first line. Keep an eye on Patrick Sharp, who will skate on a third line with highly skilled rookie Teuvo Teravainen and veteran center Antoine Vermette. That trio will create matchup problems for the Ducks."
PREDICTION: "Each side has a clear path to victory. For the Ducks, it’s defense and special teams. For the Blackhawks, offensive depth and goaltending. So, who wins? In this clash of titans, I’ll take experience as the tiebreaker. The Hawks have a big edge in postseason success. Since 2009, they’ve won 14 playoff series and two Stanley Cups. Thirteen members of this team wear a ring. The Ducks won the Cup in 2007, but only Getzlaf, Perry and Beauchemin are still on the roster. And since that milestone, Anaheim has won only four playoff series in seven years. This should be a good one, but I see Chicago stealing a game at the Honda Center. Blackhawks in 6." - Allan Muir
(.com of course, there's no hockey on ESPN, silly goose)
About the Ducks: The Ducks have a strong SAT when they are behind, which isn't a surprise given that they've won games in which they've trailed an amazing six times this spring. Also in their favor are their 3.89 goals per game and their 31 percent power-play percentage, both of which lead all playoff teams.
Anaheim has outscored opponents 16-3 in the third period thus far this spring. On an individual basis, Ryan Kesler's domination in the faceoff circle is not to be understated -- at 63.7 percent, far and away the best of any full-time center in the playoffs.
About the Hawks: "Blackhawks forward Teuvo Teravainen isn't really a secret, but he's shown the ability to rise to the occasion when coach Joel Quenneville gives him the nod. Teravainen has three points in six games this spring and might get more scoring opportunities, as we figure this is a series where the Blackhawks must ramp up their offense to keep pace with the Ducks."
PREDICTION: "It's a tough call, but I predicted an Anaheim Stanley Cup championship in September and will not waver at this point. I figure Frederik Andersen and Corey Crawford are even in goal, but I love the Ducks' balance up front and along the blue line. Ducks in seven." - Scott Burnside
About the Ducks: "Over his postseason career, Kesler has played in 19 games against Chicago with 11 points. Additionally, he has been credited with 45 hits and 48 shots on goal. He is going to be a factor one way or another. How effective he is could have a major influence on what the Ducks do in this series."
About the Hawks: "The Blackhawks are well schooled in this environment. [Their postseason] run started in 2009 when the Blackhawks were just beginning to realize their potential as the powerhouse we've come to know. They were quickly dispatched by the more experienced Detroit Red Wings, at the time the defending Stanley Cup champions, in five games...On the road to the 2010 Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks swept the San Jose Sharks. In 2013 after two years away, they bounced the defending champion Kings in five games. Just last season, they were one goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final again, but Kings defenseman Alec Martinez found the back of the net in overtime in Game 7."
PREDICTION: Adam Gretz picks the Hawks in seven, and Chris Peters picks the Hawks in six.
About the Ducks: "Getzlaf has the tangibles: 6-foot-4, 218 lbs.; awesome protector of the puck; great on draws; mean streak. He is a world-class passer, and thanks to some savvy trade/draft acumen back in 2003 by then-Ducks GM Bryan Murray, Getzlaf has been fitted with one of the game’s great goal scorers in Perry."
About the Hawks: "Toews has everything Getzlaf has, but in a more compact, 6-foot-2, 201 lbs. package. But he also possesses that special something. Toews just knows how to win. He’s a born leader around which this near-dynasty has been constructed, and with two Cups under his belt at age 27, Toews could not be more in his prime than he is this spring."
PREDICTION: "Blackhawks in six." - Mark Spector
About the Ducks: "1. Few teams have a center corps that matches up physically against Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler. 2. The Ducks' scoring depth is impressive. Jakob Silfverberg has 11 points, Patrick Maroon has seven and Matt Beleskeyhas five goals. 3. Nobody has given the Ducks enough credit this season. This is a quality team that has improved defensively. The Ducks have all of the ingredients to be a champion, including the mental and physical toughness."
About the Hawks: "With 65 playoff wins since 2008, the Blackhawks have copyrighted the blueprint for postseason success. Nothing that happens in the postseason surprises the Blackhawks. 2. Deep roster. Patrick Sharp plays on the third line. That says it all. 3. Duncan Keith leads an impressive multi-faceted defense. He has played well enough to be in Conn Smythe consideration if Chicago advances."
PREDICTION: "The Blackhawks appear to be in the middle of their championship period. Take them to win in overtime in Game 7." - Kevin Allen
"DUCKS WILL WIN IF ... Their defense can handle the Blackhawks' skill and transition game. Anaheim was able to withstand odd-man rushes and high-quality chances against Winnipeg and Calgary, but the margin of error shrinks considerably against the Blackhawks. Boudreau said the Ducks have trouble against speed teams."
"HAWKS WILL WIN IF ... They can keep getting opportunistic goals from their core group of stars. Kane's outstanding play against Minnesota was a huge reason that series went the way it did. Kane, Toews, Hossa, Keith, Sharp, Seabrook and Brandon Saad are a lot for any team to shut down entirely, and the Blackhawks are banking on that leading them to back to the Stanley Cup Final."
About the Ducks: "Ducks starting goalie Frederik Andersen has a .925 save percentage through two rounds and has given up two goals or fewer in seven of nine games. That said, he’s been forced to make more than 30 saves in only one of those games, so he hasn’t really been tested that much. As a young player making his first conference finals appearance, it will be interesting to see how Andersen handles the pressure. Chicago is much deeper and has a lot more high-end skill than Winnipeg and Calgary."
About the Hawks: "The Blackhawks need Corey Crawford to play like he did in Round 2, not Round 1, if they’re going to beat the Ducks. Crawford was benched in the first round and played in just three of the six games. He gave up nine goals with an abysmal .850 save percentage. He played all four games against the Wild in Round 2 and allowed three goals with a .947 save percentage."
PREDICTION: Ducks in 7.
The Puck Daddy crew picked as follows:
Sean Leahy: Blackhawks in 7, Jen Neale: Blackhawks in 7; Josh Cooper: Ducks in 6, Ryan Lambert: Blackhawks in 7, Darryl "Dobber" Dobbs: Ducks in 7, Sam McCaig: Ducks in 7, Nick Cotsonika: Blackhawks in 6; Greg Wyshynski: Blackhawks in 6.
Though most of the Puck Daddy crew think that the Blackhawks will win, their support is not unamimous, and everyone thinks it will be a long series. Cooper probably gives the most compelling justification for his pick:
"The Blackhawks will be Anaheim’s greatest test this playoff, but I think the Ducks will prevail. The Ducks have the best 1-2 center punch left in the postseason. Their defense goes three pairs deep. Frederik Andersen has been steady the whole playoff. Coach Bruce Boudreau has kept his emotions in check. The Blackhawks seem to always figure out a way to win and have that sort of mojo about them. But the Ducks seem primed and ready for this challenge. Except for maybe a couple of minutes in Game 3 against Calgary in the second-round, they’ve been the most focused team in the NHL these playoffs."
Though most of the national experts predict a Blackhawks victory, the Ducks' position as a hungry underdog may work to their advantage.
Here's my expert prediction: The winner of this series will win the Cup.