The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks stormed out of the gate and played one of their best overall games in recent weeks, earning a 4-2 victory that snapped Anaheim's winning streak at eight games.
The win also ended Chicago's five-game losing streak against the Ducks, who lost for just the second time in 20 games. Anaheim's 18-1 run matched the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens for the best 19-game stretch in NHL history.
"We knew we were facing the hottest team in the League and we knew how good they are, how talented they are," said Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa, who scored a pair of goals and had eight of Chicago's 35 shots. "They have the best line in the League and we knew we had to stop it somehow. I thought we did an excellent job."
Anaheim (36-9-5, 77 points) leads the Blackhawks (31-8-11, 73 points) by four points in both the Western Conference and NHL standings and faces a tough back-to-back turnaround game Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.
Boudreau was not pleased with his team's effort, especially in the first 40 minutes. The Ducks trailed 2-0 after two periods, had been outshot 26-11 and had been forced to kill off five Chicago power plays.
"I didn't think the first two periods were very good at all," Boudreau said. "Granted, they made us look bad by playing well, but we weren't very good I didn't think. You're disappointed every time you don't win. I already had a text, 'Well, it had to happen.' Well it didn't have to happen. Every day is a new day. We didn't come ready to play ... to beat them."
Hossa and Kris Versteeg gave Chicago its first-period lead and Bryan Bickell scored 10:13 into the third to make it 3-0. Ryan Getzlaf and Kyle Palmieri countered with goals 53 seconds apart to make it close before Hossa's empty-netter with 7.6 seconds left sealed it.
"I thought that was a really good game, sort of like a playoff atmosphere," said Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, who made 19 saves and picked up his first win in six games since returning from a lower-body injury. "It was a little bit too close at the end maybe. Being up that many goals you want to be able to close it out without that kind of finish, but it's good to get the two points and beat that team."
Jonas Hiller made 31 saves and played well, but took his first loss since Dec. 3, snapping a string of 14 straight wins. He was three short of the NHL record for a single season, set by Gilles Gilbert with the Boston Bruins in 1975-76.
Hiller's play wasn't the issue -- he kept the game from becoming a blowout in the first two periods and nearly stopped Bickell's point-blank shot off a rush in the third. The Ducks' forwards and defense couldn't make the same claim after a rare off-night.
"It was definitely not our best game," Hiller said. "I thought we just didn't work enough, especially the first two periods. If you play a team like the Blackhawks, you can't just try to work for half a period or one period and hope you win. It's just disappointing to lose. If we played our best, we definitely [had] a good chance, but we can't just rely on talent."
Boudreau preached a similar message.
"With all the press that we've gotten in the last two days, some guys maybe just weren't ready for this. It's a learning experience. To be on top, there's a commitment you have to make just being there or you don't stay there very long."
Chicago evidently made that commitment early. Just as Boudreau predicted, the Blackhawks came out flying.
They took it right to the Ducks and forced Hiller to be at his best on several saves in the first half of the opening period. Hossa finally got one past him at 10:34, while the Blackhawks were shorthanded. He ripped a shot to the short side, over Hiller's left pad, to reward Niklas Hjalmarsson for a slick reverse pass in Chicago's defensive zone that sprung a 2-on-1 rush.
The goal was the 18th of the season for Hossa and his third in four games.
A fortunate bounce and some hard work by Versteeg turned into Chicago's second goal.
After Versteeg tried to flip a puck toward the net from the corner, Anaheim's Matt Beleskey blocked it toward Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen, who had it bounce off him and head toward Hiller. Versteeg, who didn't play in the third because of an upper-body injury, swooped in between the two Ducks skaters and popped the puck into the far side at 17:06 with a backhanded chop.
The goals were big for the Blackhawks, who came into the game with a 23-0-5 record when scoring first but hadn't done so in their past five games.
"It was huge," defenseman Duncan Keith said. "We talked about coming out and having a good start against them and limiting their chances. I thought we had a good start and were pretty solid throughout the whole game."
Chicago earned four power plays in the second period, but couldn't convert any into goals and wound up going 0-for-5 with the extra man. Those power-play struggles nearly came back to haunt them in the third.
After Bickell scored his first goal since Dec. 23, the Ducks made things interesting. Getzlaf capitalized on a turnover for his 24th goal to make it 3-1 at 13:47 and Palmieri cut it to 3-2 at 14:40 with a wrister from the high slot that snuck between Crawford's pads.
Anaheim pressed hard from there, but couldn't get the equalizer before Hossa's empty-netter ended its comeback hopes.
Versteeg suffered an upper-body injury in the final seconds of the second period and didn't return. The Blackhawks said he'll be evaluated on Friday.
|SHG - Marian Hossa (18) ASST: Jonathan Toews (31), Niklas Hjalmarsson (16)|
1 - 0 CHI
|Kris Versteeg (9) ASST: NONE|
2 - 0 CHI
|Bryan Bickell (7) ASST: Brent Seabrook (27)|
3 - 0 CHI
|Ryan Getzlaf (24) ASST: Corey Perry (27)|
3 - 1 CHI
|Kyle Palmieri (9) ASST: Cam Fowler (23)|
3 - 2 CHI
|EN - Marian Hossa (19) ASST: Marcus Kruger (16), Niklas Hjalmarsson (17)|
4 - 2 CHI
|Hampus Lindholm Hooking against Andrew Shaw|
|Andrew Shaw Interference against Saku Koivu|
|Michal Rozsival Cross checking against Corey Perry|
|Teemu Selanne Hooking against Brandon Saad|
|Ryan Getzlaf Unsportsmanlike conduct|
|Cam Fowler Cross checking against Ben Smith|
|Corey Perry Boarding against Marcus Kruger|