This is one of the cool things about the Olympic tournament, or the World Cup. Or NHLers playing poker — whichever the National Hockey League chooses as its best on best forum down the road.
Come Sunday, the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks meet in a Game 1 that every one of these players will take every bit as seriously as they did those games in Sochi and Vancouver. But instead of Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry sitting a couple of dressing room stalls down from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp, now those Canadian forwards will all go head to head.
Same with Americans Ryan Kesler and Patrick Kane, in a Western Conference final that epitomizes what has come to be referred to as “Big Boys Hockey.”
“Quick team, dangerous team, but a beatable team,” Kesler said in Anaheim this week. “We know how to win games. We’re going to make it our kind of game and we’ll be fine.”
Sounds easy, right? Yeah…
The ‘Hawks and Ducks are two legit Stanley Cup contenders teams with opposing styles, whose organizations have either found a long-term spot at the top of the hockey hierarchy (Chicago), or have been knocking on the door for some time (Anaheim). They’ve got every box ticked off — size, speed, skill, experience — and are each stocked up with every item of that great Canadian recipe known as memorable spring hockey.
If big and skilled are your two measuring sticks, we’re willing to say that no team in hockey has a duo with as much of that combined asset as does Anaheim in Getzlaf and Perry. Add giant Patrick Maroon on their left side, and the Ducks No. 1 can cycle longer than a Shriner on Red Bull.
Unless knowing how to win is your preferred measurable. Then, we would venture that no other NHL organization can put together a foursome with more of that quality than Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in Chicago.
You’ve got mullets (Kane) and male pattern baldness (Getzlaf). Nice guy in Toews, and not such a nice guy in Kesler. Established defensive presence in Keith, and perhaps the best 21-year-old defenceman in the game in Hampus Lindholm.
Here are a few thoughts, with Game 1 having been given the writer-friendly start time of 3 pm Eastern on Sunday afternoon. That’s noon in Anaheim. Thanks, Gary!
One L.A. writer called it “Captain Rogaine versus Captain Serious,” and we’re not sure we can do much better than that when it comes to Getzlaf vs. Toews. They are two elite centremen, similar only in the totality of their game being at an Olympian level.
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.
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.
Edge — Chicago.
Let’s face it: Nobody completely trusts Corey Crawford as an every-day, win-you-a-Stanley-Cup goalie, even though he did just that in 2013. When he’s good, though, there is plenty of goaltender there to win with. But what if he’s not? Can Scott Darling do to Anaheim what he did against Nashville, a performance that saved the Blackhawks’ bacon?
Meanwhile, Frederik Andersen has gone 8-1 this spring for Anaheim. If anyone knew he was going to be this solid, wouldn’t the Ducks have gone with him throughout the playoffs last year? Oh, wait…
Facing Chicago is a huge step up from facing Winnipeg and Calgary. This is uncharted territory for the Danish guardian.
Edge — Chicago
For the sake of conversation, let’s say that Getzlaf and Perry cancel out Toews and Kane. What Chicago doesn’t have is a second line centre like Kesler who can erase the advantage of having last change at home for Chicago.
Offensively, however, Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brad Richards and Brandon Saad have a certain pedigree that Ducks forwards like the red-hot Matt Beleskey, Andrew Cogliano, Kyle Palmieri, and Jakob Silfverberg can’t match. Speed kills however, and no one would argue that the Ducks group isn’t quicker.
And it must be said that Hossa has been dormant, with one playoff goal thus far.
“You like to (score goals), but we’ve got lots of different guys who can score,” Hossa said this week in Chicago. “When everybody’s scoring, it’s tougher to defend than just one line scoring. If you’re asking me if I would like to score more, yes I would. But is it the most important thing for me? No. It’s wins.”
Among defensive corps, Chicago’s is better but Anaheim’s is way deeper. As long as Keith, Seabrook, Nik Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya are your Top 4, I’ll take Chicago’s blue-line. If anyone gets hurt beyond Michal Rozsival? Look out Blackhawks.
Edge in support players — Chicago.
In the end, this series pits “Know How To Win” against “Time To Learn How To Win.”
“Nothing’s going to rattle [the Blackhawks),” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said this week. “They know what playoff hockey’s all about, the pace they have to play. We’re going to have to be better. I’m depending on our guys to do their jobs.”
I’m taking the team that’s been here before.
Blackhawks in six.