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Ducks bottle Blackhawks in perfect road game

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
(Bill Smith / Chicago Blackhawks)

So despondent and devastated were the Anaheim Ducks over a brutal loss at home on Tuesday night that they swaggered into the United Center Thursday night and played almost a perfect road game. This should not startle, because they did not get this far by being frail or one-dimensional.

Simon Despres, a central figure in one of six deals executed by General Manager Bob Murray prior to the trade deadline, blasted a one-timer from the right circle at 19:05 of the second period. That provided the visitors a 2-1 lead which they nurtured until the very end to assume a similar 2-1 advantage over the Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final.

Game 3 of the tournament was more careful and a lot shorter than Game 2, but a constant could be found in goal for the Ducks: Frederik Andersen. Only moments before Despres’ missile eluded Corey Crawford, Andersen calmly authored a glove swipe on Brandon Saad. Andersen seems so composed, it is as though he is picking cherries with that leather mitt of his. John Gibson, who still might be Anaheim’s future at that position, beat the Blackhawks 1-0 here in October, but he can’t get near the cage because of Andersen.

With him exuding almost an aura of serenity, the Ducks blocked 27 shots in front of him and killed whatever portions of five power plays the Blackhawks didn’t themselves mistreat. Not only did they fail to scare Anaheim during a double-minor, consider the important people who were sent off for the visitors: Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf once each, and Ryan Kesler twice. Those are the Ducks’ stars, but this was group therapy or, as Coach Bruce Boudreau praised, “a character win.”

For the first home game since May 3, soloist Jim Cornelison was accompanied by a standing room only throng of 22,160 that perhaps smelled blood after their heroes snagged Tuesday’s late, late show. Fans were delighted to see Jonathan Toews decked out in the red sweater and not wearing Kesler, who cited Chicago as one of few destinations to which he would agree being shipped from Vancouver last summer.

Kesler did hold Toews midway in the second period for a no-no, but they were not as inseparable as they were in Anaheim, as the different venue allowed Joel Quenneville the last call on line changes. Of course, Coach Q did that even before puck drop, switching out Antoine Vermette and Teuvo Teravainen for Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom. Quenneville said he sought some “fresh legs” and voiced no complaints about the substitutions.

The Ducks, “angry” about Game 2 according to Boudreau, did not dally in declaring themselves cleansed of that triple-overtime heartbreak. With Perry loitering around Crawford, Patrick Maroon beat him on a power play at 12:55 of the first period. Getzlaf assisted as part of his voluminous contributions over 30 shifts. At least that’s what the official NHL report says. You could swear the Anaheim captain was out there for more than 21 minutes, 33 seconds. What a handful he is.

The Blackhawks had to burn their timeout in the first period while leading Game 2 because the Ducks would not let them breathe. Thursday night, they trailed 1-0 but kept pecking away until late in the session, when Patrick Kane scored his first of the series and eighth of the postseason. The Ducks, who have been known to turn the puck over, had it surrounded in their end when Kane interrupted, whirled and zipped a backhander past Andersen.

The crowd went bonkers, and surely this revolting development so close to the intermission would crush the Ducks. Never happened. They bottled up the Blackhawks, often capping them in the neutral zone, and when Toews or Versteeg escaped the dragnet, Andersen repelled all like the veteran he isn’t. Nor did he, or Crawford for that matter, act as if they were tired.

We salute players on either side who skated forever Tuesday night, such as the Blackhawks’ four Minutemen on defense. Well, about the goalies? Crawford and Andersen both played 116 minutes, 12 seconds. If either had been even just above-average, the game would have ended long before it did.

Thursday did not pack such perpetual zest, and the waning moments of the third period almost stretched the clock to pro basketball dimensions. Faceoff, icing, another faceoff, another icing. At the bitter conclusion for Blackhawk fans, Getzlaf did an interview with NBC Sports. He sat on the visitors’ bench for the first time all evening, I believe.

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