By Kyle Shohara
Good morning, and welcome to Game 1 of the Western Conference Final. In just a few hours, the Ducks and Blackhawks will open up their highly anticipated and long-awaited postseason matchup on the big stage in front of a raucous Honda Center crowd. Not since Game 2 of the 2006 Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Colorado (May 7, 2006) have the Ducks hosted a noon game, so to adjust to the earlier start time, the team held consecutive noon practices earlier this week.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf. “We’ve had breaks toward the end of the year and during each of the playoffs. It's much-needed. You have time to rest your body, but we've gone through the last three days of preparation, now we're just waiting for [Game 1].”
Corey Perry says he’s no worse for wear following an apparently leg injury in Game 5 vs. Calgary last Sunday. In typical Perry fashion, he was back on the ice moments later and eventually scored the series-clinching goal in overtime to send the Ducks to the NHL’s final four.
“I feel great,” said Perry, who celebrated his 30th birthday yesterday. “I feel fine on the ice. Everything went well the last couple days. I got no injuries.” Perry's 14 points (six goals, eight assists) are the most to start a playoff season since Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby (15) in 2013, and he’s also the first NHL player with multiple four-point contests in a single playoff campaign since Philadelphia's Keith Primeau in 2004.
KESLER NO STRANGER TO HAWKS
Though these clubs have never met in the postseason, there is one player on the Ducks who has plenty of history against the Blackhawks. This will be the fourth time Ryan Kesler goes mano a mano with the likes of Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. The 30-year-old Kesler, acquired last June from the Vancouver Canucks, battled the Blackhawks in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“You just draw from past experience on what was successful against them and how to break them down,” Kesler said after a recent practice. “I’ll share my experience with the coaches and the players.”
Kesler and Toews have mutual respect for one another, but the battles between the two veterans over the course of three consecutive postseasons can best be described as intense.
“Toews is a good player,” said Kesler. “We always seem to match up against each other. When you play against the same guy for six, seven games in a row, obviously there’s going to be a rivalry there. If I play against him in this series, I’m sure we won’t hug each other on the dot – let’s just say that.”
Kesler says he won’t let his emotions – or those of his teammates – get the best of them. “We’re here for one reason, and that’s to win,” Kesler said. “We’ve done a good job of keeping our emotions in check and not letting that so-called hatred into our game. That’s when things get a little hairy for us.”
“He's a player you want on your team,” said Perry. “To have him and to push forward with him, he's been great for us. He's done everything we asked, everything we need him to do.”
NEUTRALIZING THE BIG TWO
Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm figure to see plenty of Toews and Kane in this series, and it’ll be their responsibility to slow down two of the league’s most dangerous players.
Toews (4g/7a) is tied for fifth with 11 postseason points, and has four multi-point games (including two three-point efforts in the First Round vs. Nashville). Kane (7g/6a) trails only Perry with 13 postseason points, and owns a career-best five-game postseason goal streak. The 26-year-old native of Buffalo, NY is also riding a career-high seven-game postseason point streak.
“They're both really quick players with great puck-handling skills,” said the 34-year-old Beauchemin. “You give them an inch, they'll make you pay. They want that puck on their stick to make plays. Toews is obviously a great shooter, and he plays hard around the net. You really want to be tight on those guys and not give them any time and space. You always talk about time and space against the best players. Especially those two, you have to be doing that.”POTENTIAL LINE COMBINATIONS
Patrick Maroon-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey-Ryan Kesler-Jakob Silfverberg
Andrew Cogliano-Nate Thompson-Kyle Palmieri
Emerson Etem-Rickard Rakell-Jiri Sekac
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Cam Fowler-Simon Despres
Clayton Stoner-Sami Vatanen