By Kyle Shohara
In a series that has included a double overtime contest and a triple OT thriller in two of the first four games, the Western Conference Final now becomes a best-of-three as the Ducks host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at Honda Center. Aside from Game 1’s 4-1 discrepancy, each game since then has been decided by a single goal, including the two OT marathons mentioned earlier that ended in favor of the Blackhawks.
The Ducks have yet to lose twice in a row during a playoff run which has seen the club go 10-3 in 13 games.
“We’ve been talking all year as a hockey team about, ‘Never lose two in a row. Never lose two in a row,’” Francois Beauchemin said yesterday. “We’ve found a way to respond all season. We’ve had some tough losses in the regular season, and we’ve found a way to bounce back and win the next game. I think that shows how much the guys care, and there is a lot of character in that room.”
Reaching the Stanley Cup Final means getting past the Blackhawks, a formidable and playoff-hardened group that has a wealth of talent and experience in situations like the one presented tonight. Chicago has reached the Western Conference Final in three consecutive seasons and five of the past seven overall. So, to be the best, you have to beat the best.
“For the last few years, and maybe this year being the exception, the West has been the better conference,” said Ducks head coach Bruce Boudreau. “There are an awful lot of elite teams in the West, so to go through a former Stanley Cup champion isn’t unfounded. It’s something you expect. They’ve been in the Conference Finals in five of the past seven years. You expect to have to go through a team like this to reach the goal you want to reach.”
The Ducks aren’t trying to sneak past the Blackhawks. Instead, they’re trying to pound them into submission. Through four games, the Ducks have outhit the Blackhawks 220-158, and according to the statistical website war-on-ice.com, Chicago’s top-four defensemen have had to absorb 101 hits in the process, including 20 on Johnny Oduya during Game 2’s triple OT contest at Honda Center.
Below is a breakdown of each player and the hits taken in Games 1-4:PLAYER GAME/HITS TAKEN (in parenthesis)
1 (8), 2 (10), 3, (4), 4 (10)
1 (2), 2 (10), 3 (3), 4 (5)
1 (3), 2 (20), 1 (1), 4 (4)
1 (5), 2 (5), 3 (5), 4 (6)
Ryan Kesler says the game plan tonight remains the same as it’s been throughout the series. “It’s another Game 1 and we have to go out there and take it,” Kesler said. “We’re going to enforce our game plan. We learned from our mistakes last game, and we’re excited to be back in front of our home fans. They’re going to be loud for us tonight.”
When asked about the nastiness that has developed in this series, Boudreau says it’s a byproduct of two teams doing whatever it takes to earn hockey’s ultimate prize.
“Both of us want to get to where we haven’t been in a while, or ever, in some cases,” Boudreau said, alluding to himself. “When that comes to task, you do whatever it takes to win. Whatever it takes. Both teams are in that situation. You play for as long as you can, you work as hard as you can. You skate. You see the backchecking in this series. The tracking is so much harder than it is during the regular season. The shifts are nowhere near as long.
“All these things … that’s all because of the prize. That’s all because you grew up at five years old playing ball hockey in the driveway. You’re dreaming about holding that thing, so you do whatever it takes. That’s what makes hockey so great.”