By Adam Brady
The Ducks got back to their homes well past midnight after one of their worst games of the season, a 6-3 loss in San Jose in which Anaheim gave up five second period goals to the Sharks. But there’s no time to wallow in that defeat, as the Ducks turn right around to face one of the best teams in the league this evening at Honda Center.
The high-powered Chicago Blackhawks are fourth in the Western Conference with a 30-16-2 record, eight points behind the NHL-leading Ducks (32-11-6). But Chicago has had a bumpy ride in January, having gone 5-6-0 this month, including a 4-3 loss in LA two nights ago in which they surrendered three one-goal leads.
Nevertheless, the Ducks know they face a stern test against a Hawks team that dominated Anaheim at home in a 4-1 victory last November 28.
“This is an elite team we’re playing tonight,” said Anaheim defenseman Ben Lovejoy after an optional morning skate that saw about 10 Ducks on the ice. “We are tired, coming off a terrible game and we need to be mentally prepared from the start tonight. We need to play one of the smartest games of the year because your legs might not be as perfect as you’d like them to be.”
Last night’s loss in San Jose snapped a six-game winning streak for Anaheim that bookended last weekend’s All-Star break. And the last thing Anaheim wants is to follow that impressive streak with a skid. “Bruce reminds us all the time, and one of his favorite sayings is, ‘Losing streaks follow winning streaks, and winning streaks follow losing streaks,’” Lovejoy said. “We’re going to have to prove that wrong tonight.
"This Chicago team is really good. We played a bad game last night, and this will be our third game in four nights, but we need to respond. We can’t use that as an excuse.”
The laudably consistent Ducks have only lost two games in a row once this season – that November 28 loss to Chicago that was followed by a 6-4 defeat to the Sharks the next night in San Jose.
“Now it’s all of a sudden the same scenario,” Boudreau said, “and we’ll try to end that [pattern] today. It will be a lot about will and want tonight.”
The past two seasons the Ducks have defied the challenges of playing on consecutive nights, as they’re 9-6-2 this season, including 5-3-0 in the second game. Last season, Anaheim went a jaw-dropping 20-5-3 in back-to-backs, including 11-1-2 on the second night. Tonight is their ninth and last set of back-to-backs for the season.
“Sometimes you just have a bad game, and you’ve got to let it go and say, 'Let’s get back on track and play the way we can,'” Boudreau said. “It’s great that we’ve got a really good opponent coming in because it doesn’t allow you to let bad habits creep in.”
The Ducks will also be bolstered by the likely start of No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen, after backup Ilya Bryzgalov struggled last night in San Jose. Andersen (a perfect 8-0-0 in January) will likely see a lot more shots tonight than the 17 have faced in a shutout of the Canucks in Vancouver last Tuesday night in the first game out of the All-Star break. Chicago's top two forward lines feature the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad, each of which have already reached double-digits in goals this season (led by Kane with 23).
“You've just got to make them play defense, keep pucks in their end and create zone pressure,” said Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano. “They’re team a team that if you sit back and play defense against them, they can pick you apart. It’s our job tonight to take it to them. I thought last game against them was one of the worst we played this season. They completely dominated us, and we need a good response tonight.”