The hockey world is in for a treat. The two most talented teams in the Western Conference will face each other come this weekend, and both play an exciting and fast-paced brand of hockey. Both clubs boast an impressive array of star power with the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.
The Blackhawks represent the National Hockey League’s model of excellence: a team built upon intelligent drafting cushioned by key free agent acquisitions. To top it off, they have one of the best head coaches of all time, Joel Quenneville, calling the shots behind the bench.
As for the Ducks, it’s been a long climb back to dominance since their first Stanley Cup in 2007. Perennial early playoff exits have marred the California club’s recent years, as this post-season represents their first Conference Final berth since that fateful Cup.
Anaheim certainly puts up a good case as the deepest team in the league, having lost only one game through two rounds without having played Jiri Sekac or James Wisniewski a single minute.
Not much separates the two clubs in terms of skill, as both possess offensively gifted defensemen and a glut of talented forwards. However, look no further than between the pipes to find what could very well make the difference in the series.
The Edge In Net For Ducks
Corey Crawford is essentially Chris Osgood volume two; a goaltender who time and time again proves that he can have consistent success, yet never seems to receive any sort of respect for it. That reputation isn’t unwarranted either, as Crawford’s game never screams “historically elite goaltender”.
His rather robotic stance and movement get the job done, much like a Jean-Sebastien Giguere, but the athleticism that goaltenders like Jonathan Quick get lauded for is largely absent from his game.
Down in the other net though is a 25-year old upstart by the name of Frederik Andersen who has done nothing but dazzle since entering professional hockey. His game is characterized by conservative yet graceful movement around the net, never seeming out of position. Yet much like Carey Price, he also possesses the size and athletic ability to cover up his rare mistakes. To boot, he’s also an excellent puck handler.
Let’s be clear here: Crawford is a serviceable goaltender who probably hasn’t gotten enough recognition for what he’s been able to accomplish in his career, especially considering he’s not a freak athlete a la Quick. When it comes down to these two relatively even teams though, Andersen’s excellence could ultimately put the Ducks over the top.
Numbers Can Be Deceiving For Blackhawks
When broken down, their statistics this spring aren’t all that far apart. Their raw save percentages are only .009 apart in favor of Andersen, yet that difference can be huge in the NHL. A .925 save percentage is much more impressive than Crawford’s .916, which sounds a lot more like that of a backup than an elite starter.
Contrary to statistics we use to measure team success though, the numbers can often lie when it comes to goaltenders (just ask Ottawa Senators fans about Andrew Hammond’s playoff performance). Crawford simply doesn’t seem like the goaltender that would make a positive difference in an evenly-matched seven-game series. Rather, he keeps the ship afloat and occasionally plugs some leaks.
Andersen on the other hand, with his impeccable technique and big-save ability, can be that difference. The numbers back this assertion up, as Andersen has a slightly superior save percentage than Crawford on quality scoring chances.
Can the young Dane win the series on his own though? Probably not all on his own given how good of a team the Blackhawks are. There’s no question that he’s superior to his counterpart Crawford though, and that difference right there could result in the Ducks making their first visit to the Stanley Cup final since the pre-smartphone era.