By Kyle Shohara
CHICAGO – The Ducks can return to Anaheim in one of two ways. They can either come back home carrying a 3-1 series lead needing just one more win to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, or they can buckle in for a best-of-three series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Over 22,000 fans (22,160 to be exact) filed into United Center - the largest sports arena (sheer size) in the United States on Thursday - and another standing-room-only crowd will converge upon W. Madison Street tonight for a seemingly must-win game for the Blackhawks. The team’s famous goal song (The Fratellis' Chelsea Dagger) was heard just once in Game 3 following a no-look backhand goal from all-world right wing Patrick Kane.
Despite what’s on the line for the Blackhawks, the Ducks say they aren’t changing a thing. As they’ve done all throughout the postseason – one in which they’ve won 10 of 12 – the Ducks will focus solely on themselves.
“We know what’s at stake,” said Anaheim's leading scorer Corey Perry. “We know where we are in the series and what this game means. It’s all about us. We’re worried about how we play. We’re not worried about what they’re doing. As long as we play the way we can play, we’re going to be all right. We just need to control our emotions and stay out of the penalty box.”
The Ducks were sent to the sin bin five times, including a double-minor infraction on key penalty killer Jakob Silfverberg in Game 3, and if not for a superb job on the penalty kill (Anaheim limited to Chicago to a single shot on five power plays), this series could be 2-1 in favor or the Blackhawks.
“We can’t take five penalties again, can’t take a four-minute penalty,” said PK stalwart Nate Thompson, whose 3:57 shorthanded TOI led all Ducks forwards in Game 3. “I know our penalty kill was great, but we don’t want to test it too much. We have to skate better. When you have stick infractions like we had, it’s usually because you’re not moving your feet.”
Thompson couldn’t help but use a cliché when he was asked what it’s going to take to come back to Anaheim with a 3-1 series lead.
“We have to play an even better game,” he said. “It’s the truth. They’re an experienced team that’s been in this situation before. We know we’re going to get their best.”
An experienced team, indeed, as this represents Chicago’s third consecutive Western Conference Final appearance. The Blackhawks were able to erase a 3-1 series deficit last year to force a Game 7 in the Conference Finals vs. Los Angeles, only to lose the deciding game in overtime.
“When you get to this stage of the playoffs, every game is a must-win,” said Kyle Palmieri. “We’re going to go in with that mindset tonight, get off to a good start and go from there.”EXPECTED 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