(Photo: Blackhawks Facebook)
This Chicago Blackhawks–Anaheim Ducks series sends me back to my grandparents’ “Nintendo room” (also, importantly, where the old Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books sat) and that darn Duck Hunt dog is laughing at me.
Only now, I’m much more emotionally invested than having to hand an orange plastic gun over to my big brother.
This series, which seemingly miraculously has the Ducks with only a 3-2 lead, is yet to yield a Blackhawks regulation win. And, on Monday night, Anaheim gave Chicago their first overtime loss of the postseason. The 5-4 Ducks victory, just 45 seconds into first overtime, followed a thrilling comeback by Chicago after the Ducks took a three goal lead in the first period.
It also came on the heels of another Blackhawks battering by the Ducks–a gameplan shared (again) beforehand by Center Ryan Kesler, who told Nhl.com.
“No human can withstand that many hits.”
The Ducks–whose strategy for the Hawks series according to Kesler was to “invest in them physically”–led in hits 220-158 going into Game Five, extending their hitting stat disparity to 261-181 before the OT goal buzzer rang late Monday night.
It’s especially tough when the target’s aimed on defenders, of which the Blackhawks are lacking, with four primary d-men and the remaining two taking very little ice time.
While the Blackhawks aren’t going to just take those sentiments lying down–watching it roll out on the TV before me reminds me a bit of the point in Duck Hunt when those flying ducks overtook the screen leaving me and my plastic gun useless.
Then, while I was down, another figure from my childhood turned on me–Emilio Estevez from the Mighty Ducks.
— Emilio Estevez (@EMILIOTHEWAY) May 26, 2015
You know what, Emilio, you’re not lovable Gordon Bombay with your “fowl” mouth.
You’re drunk lawyer Gordon Bombay. You’re ice-cream-with-the-enemy-dating-the-Iceland-trainer/Who was that man with the wet hair? Was it raining? Gordon Bombay. You’re coach-the-District Five-kids-to-dive-This is what I gave up my overtime pay for?! Gordon Bombay.
And the cherry on top–all of those are more relevant than being Emilio Estevez circa 2015.
That Nintendo/Nancy Drew books/Jeremy Roenick Blackhawks-era fan me is well aware the Anaheim Ducks are playing less like the Charlie Conway Ducks crew and more like their opponents–with plans to hit the other team into submission. This isn’t Blades of Steel.
I know I’m partial here, but the Blackhawks haven’t been a bad guy in this narrative. Kimmo Timonen, whose average of about 9-1/2 minutes on ice per game this series (up from five only thanks to so much overtime), is hard for the team but is part of an overall goal to give the aging athlete a chance at a championship. He’s like a grandpa in hockey! And, he came to the Hawks after most of a season off recovering from blood clots.
But, while the Hawks are giving him a chance, the Ducks are crushing him whenever possible.
Daniel Carcillo, a scratch now, has been dealing with his own injury and the death of his friend, former NHL player and teammate Steve Montador, while championing a movement to help improve players’ lives after hockey–particularly those dealing with brain injuries or depression.
And, as a fan, I know that the salary cap means we don’t have much time left with all the core guys that contribute so much to this team. It could be greedy to want to see them go all the way together at least one last time, but it’s hard not to pull for them when I see skill versus brute force and juvenile jabs. That’s the kind of hockey I love to watch and I want to see be successful.
The Blackhawks fell 3-2 Monday in a best of seven series. They have not been playing their best hockey. Every game this series has involved some sort of catchup. They’re down, but they certainly aren’t out. Why?
Coach Joel Quenneville had an answer Tuesday:
Tons of character. Tremendous leadership. Never die. Never quit. Find ways. It’s all about moving forward, dealing with the situation that faces you. Puts us into tomorrow night’s game.
Ducks pulling Hawks under water
After returning to Chicago exhausted, but high from stealing a win in Anaheim, the Blackhawks gave up their chance at home ice advantage in Game Three last Thursday.
But, the Hawks would be idle for the second, while Anaheim took advantage of the opportunity to get ahead.
It took a foray into second overtime for the Blackhawks to win their second home game Saturday, 5-4.
Brandon Saad tallied first–a shorthanded breakaway with less than a minute remaining in the first.
And then, the third period happened, with its six goals.
Five minutes later, Brent Seabrook (Saad, Toews) scored for a one-goal lead.
And then came the tying goal, 3-3, unassisted, from Matt Belesky, in about 20 seconds.
Perry (Getzlaf) gave the Ducks the lead 14 seconds later, with just over 10 minutes remaining in the third.
Kane, again, would come up big for Chicago, though, when he scored on a play from Richards and Duncan Keith at 12:39 in third.
And, proving they don’t like to sit out, Teravainen (with Patrick Sharp) set up Vermette for the game-winner 5:37 into second overtime–tying the series once more.
“I think we have experienced some moments where you get that sickened feeling, thinking, ‘How did we let that slip?'” Toews said. “You can run so many scenarios though your head as far as little things you could have done differently to finish the game, avoid the situation that you’re in. You just kind of forget about it…You’ve got to move past it, say, ‘Hey, put those three minutes behind us, forget we had a 3-1 lead, just play the way it is now. We’re down a goal, got to find a way.'”
Toews credited the players in and out of the lineup who take the game a shift at a time as part of the team’s depth.
Vermette and Teravainen are those kind of players and they’ve been as significant for the team this series as some of the core men.
“I think that’s why we feel we have a confident group and there’s still another level we can get to,” Toews said.
After losing one home game, the Blackhawks returned to Anaheim knowing they’d have to take one on the road to finish the series. For many like myself, the hope was they’d do so sooner rather than later.
But that wasn’t the case. Before the first 20 minutes was up, the Ducks would be up three goals on Chicago at the Honda Center.
Less than a minute later, Kesler would tip-in a Silfverberg shot set up by Beauchemin.
Sami Vatanen slapped a third goal in off a Getzlaf faceoff win with just over five minutes left in the first.
Just over a minute into the second, though, Teravainen would come up huge with a wrister off a pass from Vermette set up by Sharp.
And Seabrook would fire in a second goal with about 30 seconds left in the second thanks to a dish from Teravainen (Sharp).
In the third, Maroon tipped in a shot from Vatanen (Getzlaf) to stay at 4-2 with just over 15 minutes left in regulation.
Chicago’s captain stepped in for heroics, though, starting with a slapshot set up by Hossa and Keith 18:10 into the third.
Then, with 38 seconds left, he shot a wrister (Andrew Shaw, Seabrook) from a seemingly impossible angle to the far left of the net to tie the game.
After an incredible comeback, and with the hopes of a now-shaken Anaheim goaltender in Frederik Andersen, the Hawks headed to overtime.
The Ducks broke Chicago’s OT-win streak, though, when a clear-with-a-shot attempt by Bryan Bickell allowed Silfverberg and Kesler to steal the puck and set up Beleskey for the win 45 seconds in.
“You never want to go down three goals right off the bat, but I think we always show that we can find ways to dig ourselves out of those holes (and) we did it,” Toews told media Monday night. “Going into overtime, we feel the game is in our hands, we’re going to get that next break. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t take advantage of it.”
Being back home will have a number of advantages, should the Hawks choose to use them.
What’ll it take?
The Blackhawks will have to use their home crowd to their advantage this time. They’ll need to come out hot and play hard for the full 60 minutes of regulation hockey. They can’t give the Ducks a full period to lead, or even a minute to accumulate goals. While possession means more time to take hits, it also means more time to take shots–and the Blackhawks need to take them.
“It seemed like, I don’t know what it was, but like we were sleeping there at the start,” Saad said of Monday’s game. “Their goals piled on, mistake after mistake. They capitalized on it. That’s what a good team is going to do. We know we got to start better tomorrow.”
Chicago’s offense needs to make the Ducks’ defense work and not the other way around.
“It’s always important to keep the momentum on our team, especially after scoring a goal, if the other team scores a goal, you have to have big shifts right after. I think that’s something we can improve on going forward,” Hjalmarsson said Tuesday. “We all know tomorrow is a fun, huge game for us. We’re all going to bring our best, for sure. We definitely will have to do a better job.”
And, the better Chicago’s offense does, the less they have to rely on their defense and the more they pressure the Ducks’ netminder.
They also need to screen Andersen, who has been hot this series. Someone in red needs to have a present at that net to create a play, whether it’s a tip-in or merely making Andersen’s job more difficult.
While Vermette credited the effectiveness of the Ducks’ shot-blocking (21 shots in Game Five alone), he also said how powerful the Hawks are when they move their feet. They need to stay fast with the puck and spend less time dump-and-chasing, giving Anaheim too many chances to convert.
More puck possession does make them a bigger target for hits and there’s no doubt the Ducks will be aiming to strike and agitate as much as possible. The Hawks must maintain cool heads and keep themselves out of the box. They have to play their own style of hockey, not allowing aggressors to alter what’s worked in the past.
“We feel that we’re a tough team to get rid of,” Toews said. “And now obviously the next game’s a must-win for us. A lot of guys, most guys, if not everybody in this room, definitely believe that that’s when we play our best, when our backs are against the wall. So we’re ready for that challenge.”
This is a must-win for Chicago. They’ll need to play like it.
Western Conference Final Schedule
- Game 6: 7:00 p.m. CT Wed. May 27 in Chicago, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
- Game 7: 7:00 p.m. CT Sat. May 30 in Anaheim, broadcast on NBCSN, CBC, and TVA Sports
(As always, click the bold links for video clips or other information. Gifs via Stephanie Vail @myregularface)