ANAHEIM – As they promised, the Anaheim Ducks initiated more hits. The Anaheim Ducks generated more shots. The Anaheim Ducks won more faceoffs. And now the Anaheim Ducks will have more days off than the Blackhawks before the start of next season.
“We’re moving on for a reason,” offered Duncan Keith after Chicago’s boys of winter and spring advanced to the Stanley Cup Final Saturday evening with a convincing 5-3 victory at the Honda Center.
Keith looked like he had played a game of Bingo instead of a Game 7 in the grueling Western Conference Final. Then again, he skated only 27 minutes and change because, from the instant the first puck dropped, the Blackhawks left no doubt this would be their night, their series, their Clarence Campbell Bowl – not that they would deign to touch it.
Surround it, yes. Jonathan Toews, who scored his team’s last two goals here in Game 5 and the first two within 12 minutes of a clinical opening period in the clincher, summoned the entire squad over for the photo op. Toews earlier had shoulder-tapped adieu his shadow of two weeks, Ryan Kesler, in the handshake line and exchanged what seemed to be something of a man-hug with Ryan Getzlaf, so now it was time for the captain to gather his guys, all of whom already were decked out in hats marking their latest feat.
On the morning of their big day, the Blackhawks wore only exercise gear for a stretching session around the pool deck at their hotel. Because of the early start time, there would be no pregame skate. So they limbered up in shorts, then brought out the soccer ball. The Detroit Tigers were staying at the same place, and a few in their congregation noted how loose these bearded lads appeared. Baseball is an every day marathon, but the Blackhawks, some of them shirtless, were only hours away from a do-or-die assignment. Why no grim faces? Who’s that laughing over there? What next, a group swim?
Well, the simple answer is this: we would all be as confident and relaxed about what we do if we were as good as the Blackhawks are at what they do. Hours after they put the soccer ball away and got dressed for work, they took on an Anaheim team built for this moment and deconstructed it, piece by piece, shift by shift. As cool as the sheet of ice they dominated, the Blackhawks mounted a 4-0 lead, and as Ducks fans gradually checked out rather than watch another Game 7 disappointment to the bitter end, happy people in red sweaters took over those vacant seats – the closer to the glass the better.
In case anybody needed a refresher course, Head Coach Joel Quenneville reminded all that Toews is among the finest leaders in professional sports. Then Toews praised the Ducks’ great battlers. Imagine what they think of him. But, as Patrick Kane mentioned after his three assists, give the Blackhawks a little time to study how things are going and they’ll figure something out. Indeed, Toews and Kane together on a line with Brandon Saad were electric in the last two games.
However, not only did the Blackhawks’ stars outperform Anaheim’s, their next layers were superior, too. Antoine Vermette? Andrew Desjardins? Any questions now about their viability as trade deadline acquisitions?
Then, as always, there is the cage match. Entering this series all the raves were for Frederik Andersen, his miniscule goals against average, his flashy glove, his stoic demeanor. Yet, once more with feeling, Corey Crawford outshone a supposedly “better,” or at least “hotter,” opposing masked man. This development has occurred so often in recent playoffs, it might as well be a public service announcement.
The Blackhawks were so ready for Game 7 they essentially rendered it an anticlimactic outlier to an otherwise visceral series between what many neutral observers believe are the best two rosters in the National Hockey League. In the third minute, Kane danced down the right side, then fed the puck to Niklas Hjalmarsson. His drive was stopped by Andersen, but a juicy rebound was there for Toews. Blackhawks, 1-0.
Bruce Boudreau, the Ducks’ coach who is haunted by these Game 7s, implored his team to play “angry.” But he also has been known to confess that when the Ducks lose it, they often lose. Sure enough, Jakob Silfverberg hooked Saad on a rush and the Blackhawks capitalized. Keith and Brad Richards played catch with the puck until Toews got it. He blasted and with Andrew Shaw malingering around Andersen – what’s new? – the captain made it 2-0. Richards? The free agent who did not instantly fit in last October?
“Bring me along for a clincher,” he joked. Richards is 8-0 in Game 7s, and was the most valuable player for the 2004 Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, whom the Blackhawks will visit Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Final.
If the Ducks planned to impose their mantra as comeback kings, they received no cooperation from the Blackhawks. In the second period, Johnny Oduya met Getzlaf at the boards, and the puck fortuitously found Kane, who provided for Saad. He hit nothing but net at 1:18 and it was 3-0. Boudreau just stared from the home bench, as though he couldn’t believe he was attending this horror movie sequel. Then it got worse.
On a burst by Richards, Andersen attempted to nudge the puck from the blue paint, but it banked in off Hossa’s skate. After a review by officials, it was ruled that there was no distinct kicking motion from Hossa. It was only the 13th shot for the Blackhawks against 23 to that point for the Ducks. So much for statistics.
Kesler and Corey Perry halved the deficit for Anaheim, so Brent Seabrook decided to do his postseason duty. Hossa stripped Cam Fowler, who then hooked Hossa. Andersen, hounded by the indefatigable Shaw, had no chance on Seabrook’s power-play missile. In the Honda Center bowels, the Clarence Campbell Bowl came out of hiding.
When the Blackhawks landed at O’Hare about 3:30 Sunday morning, Keith looked like he might finally be ripe for a deep sleep. But first, maybe a quick workout.