By Shawn Roarke | NHL.com
ANAHEIM -- The goal behind Anaheim Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen must have looked as big as a soccer net to Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane.
Kane, who has seven goals in 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games, curled around the scrambling Andersen and had a good portion of the net at his command.
Kane flicked his wrists confidently, expecting to see the red light explode into color before his eyes. Instead, Andersen lunged, reaching desperately with his stick and was rewarded with the crack of frozen rubber hitting shellacked lumber. All Kane saw was orange while the Anaheim fans behind the goal rose to cheer a remarkable save.
"Yeah, he waited me out a little bit," Andersen said, explaining his flailing along the ice well above the blue paint of his crease in the sixth minute of the Ducks' 4-1 win in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final on Sunday at Honda Center. "I knew I had to try to throw my stick over and take [away] as much of the net as I could. Luckily he hit the stick."
The puck ricocheted off the paddle of his stick and over the cross bar and into the netting to force a faceoff and allow the Ducks to exhale a bit.
"I thought I did everything right on the play," Kane said moments after the Blackhawks fell behind in the best-of-7 series that continues with Game 2 on Tuesday at Honda Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). "He just had his stick there. If I would have put it along the ice, I would have had a better chance of scoring there. It would have been nice to get that chance and bury it to give us the lead."
Instead, what appeared to be the all-important first goal of the game, of the series, was not meant to be. The Blackhawks, who were dominating play and held the majority of the zone time in the first period, couldn't put the Ducks fully on their heels with a goal. They couldn't make the home team deviate from its plan and chase the game.
Then, at 8:45, Anaheim struck on the counterattack, changing the complexion of the game.
Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm put a seeing-eye shot through a screen at the top of the crease and beat Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford for the lead, one that was never relinquished despite Anaheim acknowledging it was outplayed for huge swaths.
"We could have gotten one, could have gotten the lead, but they got the lead and we started chasing," said veteran center Brad Richards, who scored Chicago's only goal to cut the lead to 2-1 in the last minute of the second period.
Chicago, coming off a four-game sweep of the Minnesota Wild in the previous round, suddenly had to answer questions that had been unasked of it far too intermittently in the first 10 games of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Every time Chicago thought it might have an answer, every time it generated a Grade-A chance, the Ducks' biggest question mark heading into the series, the unheralded Danish goalie with a mere 17 playoff games on his resume, stymied the attempted solution.
Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano has heard about Andersen being a question mark. He knows critics look at last postseason and remember the musical chairs in the crease with neither Andersen nor John Gibson able to stake a permanent claim on the crease and wonder if the Ducks have a goalie capable of sending a team with talent everywhere else to the Stanley Cup Final.
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 1.86 | SVP: .930
He just shakes his head and points to saves like the early effort against Kane or any of the other challenging saves in Andersen's perfect 15-save first period. The Ducks found their footing against an opponent that provided an unsettling amount of pressure to bear.
"There's no question mark with us," Cogliano said. "There's always going to be questions about guys that are young and inexperienced, but he's got a great demeanor and he's really focused for a guy that this is really his first taste of some really big games."
Said Anaheim forward Ryan Kesler, who played with an in-his-prime Roberto Luongo in a run to Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final with the Vancouver Canucks and knows what the big save can mean for a team with championship aspirations: "That's what Freddie does. He's been big for us all year, plays a calm game and especially in the first, he settled things down for us, smothering pucks. [He] never gives up.
"That's the motto of our team."
It will be a long series, with many plot lines yet to develop, but Andersen delivered the first and maybe most important. He stole a game that that by any metric, advanced stats or the eye test, was there for the taking by Chicago and turned it into a 4-1 victory for the home team.
He had the Blackhawks, who have maybe the most skilled team in the tournament, talking in the aftermath of Game 1 about getting to the net, taking away Andersen's eyes and creating more rebounds. He has the Blackhawks entertaining a bit of doubt while they chase a series for the first time this postseason.
And, if all that wasn't enough, Andersen, who finished with 32 saves, made one final statement to the Blackhawks on his way out of Honda Center and into the Southern California sunshine.
"I think everyone in the locker room knows we can beat this team," Andersen said.