By Shawn Roarke
CHICAGO -- The Anaheim Ducks believe failures on their penalty kill cost them Game 2 of the Western Conference Final.
An improved penalty kill may have won them Game 3.
Special teams played a defining role Thursday at United Center in the Ducks' 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, which gave Anaheim a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 4 is Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Ducks were shorthanded five times in Game 3, including a first-period double minor to Jakob Silfverberg. But Chicago couldn't capitalize; the Blackhawks managed one shot during 9:18 of man-advantage time for the game.
Meanwhile, Anaheim got one power play and scored on it. Patrick Maroon deflected a shot past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford 27 seconds after Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa negated a power play with a holding penalty in the offensive zone.
At Honda Center two nights earlier, Anaheim took a pair of early penalties and Chicago turned them into two goals within the game's first seven minutes. The Blackhawks won 3-2 in triple overtime, but the Ducks did not think as much about Marcus Kruger's game-winner as they did the power-play goals that put the Ducks in a hole from which they could never fully extricate themselves.
"I think we had something to prove," said forward Andrew Cogliano, one of Anaheim's primary penalty-killers. "That pretty much lost us the game [on Tuesday]. It was a really big step forward for the penalty kill."
Despite a stated goal of not taking as many penalties, the Ducks' penalty kill had to work early and often.
Corey Perry took a tripping penalty at 5:39. Ryan Kesler was whistled for holding at 10:28. Anaheim killed each of those penalties without Chicago mounting much of a threat, but the Ducks knew they were playing with fire.
The intensity of the flame increased when Silfverberg clipped Chicago captain Jonathan Toews with a high stick and drew blood. He was assessed a double-minor, and the crowd at the United Center was braying for a goal.
Center Brad Richards almost gave it to them, hitting the post during the opening half of the four-minute power play. Right wing Patrick Kane hit the iron at the tail end of the second half of the penalty. In between, there was little doing.
"We didn't have zone time, they didn't get tired," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're the ones who got tired because we had to keep breaking out, so I think that was a stretch where we didn't get momentum because we had them taking penalties and we didn't make them pay."
Chicago couldn't make Anaheim pay because the four-man units coach Bruce Boudreau sent over the boards played a more cohesive game than they did in the first period of Game 2.
"We just sharpened up on the PK," Anaheim goalie Frederik Andersen said. "We weren't satisfied with what we did the last game. That was huge for this group, coming off a tough loss where we gave up two goals on the PK. We wanted to be better today."
The Ducks were better in numerous areas.
They were sharp in the neutral zone, blunting the speed of the Chicago attack, which is a trademark of the Blackhawks' power play when it is going. The penalty-killers stepped up and denied free entries at the attacking blue line, further disrupting the rhythm of the Chicago forwards.
They forced stoppages when they could and won the majority of the ensuing faceoffs. When the Ducks gained possession they were sharp in their decisions and cleared the zone, forcing the Blackhawks to regroup. When Chicago did get the puck in areas where it could be dangerous, Anaheim made sure to get a player in the shooting lane and block shots when possible.
"[Assistant coach] Trent [Yawney] puts a great game plan together for the penalty-killers, so they know how to play," Boudreau said. "It's just executing the game plan. When they execute the game plan, it works."
On Thursday, it worked to perfection.
"We know what to do and it's all about execution now, and I think guys are executing on the penalty kill because it is that time of year and you have to," Cogliano said. "They can win you games and I thought tonight special teams won us the game."