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Blackhawks feel they're handling Ducks' physical play

by Brian Hedger / NHL.com

CHICAGO -- The Anaheim Ducks are as dedicated to preaching the merits of physical play as they are to finishing checks against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final, a best-of-7 series that is tied 2-2.

Win or lose, the Ducks have mentioned after each of the first four games that they're wearing down the Blackhawks physically and they believe it will pay off in a long series.

"No human can withstand that many hits," Anaheim center Ryan Kesler said. "We’re going to keep banging out there and going after them."

Chicago lacks quality depth among its defensemen and is the smaller team, but the Blackhawks haven't crumbled yet heading into Game 5 at Honda Center on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

In fact, the Blackhawks are starting to think the Ducks might be doing as much damage to themselves by delivering a lot of hits.

"I think it's both ways," said Chicago forward Bryan Bickell, its biggest lineup regular at 6-foot-4, 223 pounds. "They are wearing us down, but they're getting tired from wearing us down. So, it's a three-game series now."

The Blackhawks' top four defensemen -- Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Johnny Oduya -- have absorbed a combined 107 of the Ducks' 220 hits through the first four games (48.6 percent).

"I think they're coming hard, they're being physical, they've got a fast team, but we've got a pretty good group back there," Seabrook said Sunday morning before the Blackhawks boarded their cross-country flight. "The forwards are doing a good job of helping us out and making it a little easier for us coming back and limiting odd-man rushes and things like that, coming back and presenting themselves, so we can get the puck out of the zone quick and not take as many hits. I feel fine."

According to War-On-Ice.com, Hjalmarsson has taken the most hits of any player in the series (32), followed by Oduya's 29. Oduya's amount was inflated by taking 20 hits in Game 2 at Honda Center, when the Blackhawks won 3-2 win in triple overtime to split the first two games.

"It is 2-2, but the longer the [series] goes, the more those [top four defensemen] play," Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said after Game 4 at United Center, a 5-4 Chicago victory in double overtime. "That's a good thing for us. Those guys are great defensemen. They are top, top-end defensemen, but they are playing a lot of minutes. We're going home and we're going to make it tough on them and we're going to get on the forecheck."

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who's making the decision to play his top four defensemen about 85 percent of the time, is tiring of the storyline. The Ducks defensemen, who aren't taking as many hits, are taking some contact from the Blackhawks spread out among six players.

"That's the only thing that gets talked about," Quenneville said. "Their defensemen probably played just about as much as ours [in Game 4]. It's a game that you're trying to get through and win. Our guys take care of themselves real well. [Sunday] we have enough time and [Monday] to get excited about Game 5."

Keith is averaging 32:22 per game, on 39.7 shifts a game. Seabrook is up to 26:52 a game, Hjalmarsson is logging 26:36 per game, and Oduya is averaging 25:52. Playing a second extended overtime game in the series didn't help, but there's little time for any of them to dwell on the physical tolls being paid.

"Obviously, it'd be great to win it in regulation, but they've got a great team," Keith said. "It's close games, a close series and, you know, we've just got to keep going. We want to play our best, and however long it takes, that's the mindset we have to go with."

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