By Curtis Zupke
ANAHEIM -- Jiri Sekac had not played a game in over a month. Emerson Etem was benched the previous two games. Rickard Rakell was recovering from the flu.
That's not the ideal recipe for a line to get thrown into the Western Conference Final, but it worked for the Anaheim Ducks against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1.
The fourth-line trio was reunited and coach Bruce Boudreau wasn't disappointed in a 4-1 win at Honda Center. Game 2 is Tuesday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
"Well, they really gave us good energy at the proper time, before we scored our second goal," Boudreau said. "They were on the ice before Nate Thompson's line. They created the buzz in their zone. We followed that up with that shift. We ended up scoring the goal. I mean, I've got to believe they'll be together at least [Tuesday]. Beyond that, I don't know what's going to happen."
The line will at least take some measure of confidence from Game 1.
Sekac, the left wing, played his first game since April 8 and joked about the inactivity when asked if his first Stanley Cup Playoff game was what he expected as far as intensity.
"I didn't even know how it was in the regular season anymore because it's so long since my last game," Sekac said. "It might be better because you have to go out there and play anyway. You have to adjust to it."
Sekac was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for wing Devante Smith-Pelly on Feb. 24. Sekac said he felt restrained by what he called a more defensive system in Montreal and seemed like a better fit under Boudreau, who briefly played Sekac with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and then with Rakell and Etem.
Sekac played 9:00 and had three hits in Game 1. He complements Etem, the right wing, whose speed makes him an effective forechecker and penalty killer. Etem had two shots and three hits in addition to his penalty-killing, and Rakell won four of six faceoffs and blocked two shots.
"I think it was a great start for us," Etem said. "I think we can maybe talk a little bit more, develop the chemistry a little bit more, but I think for the most part, we kind of left off where we started there."
Etem was a minus-1 in Game 3 of the second-round series against the Calgary Flames, and Boudreau scratched him in Games 4 and 5. The time off allowed Etem to refocus.
"It seems like those little breaks -- you're able to watch up top -- it gives you a couple of games just to relax and just get back to where you need to be at mentally," Etem said. "I thought I was there, and I thought our line was ready, and we got even better."
Boudreau said he saw Etem as a factor.
"I thought his skating, size, physical strength [Sunday] was a difference," Boudreau said.
Rakell missed practice Saturday after he came down with the flu Friday but said there wasn't any doubt he was going to play.
"Not in my mind," Rakell said. "I don't know what they were thinking. But I didn't want to lose my spot on the team."
Rakell was the third-line center before Boudreau moved Thompson up with left wing Andrew Cogliano and Kyle Palmieri, the line that stole the show in Game 1. The attention will likely shift back to Anaheim's top two lines, but Sekac, Rakell and Etem will do their best to stay together.
"We just try to go out with confidence and a lot of speed," Rakell said. "We know we play well together earlier this year and we're just trying to build off that. We just try to take every shift as a bonus and try make the best out of it."