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Blackhawks still can't find way to beat Ducks

by Brian Hedger

CHICAGO Niklas Hjalmarsson saw the red light flash behind goalie Ray Emery, glanced at his stick and then summed up the Chicago Blackhawks' frustrations against the Anaheim Ducks this season.

After Sheldon Souray's point blast with just 2:08 left in regulation hit the Blackhawks defenseman's stick and redirected past Emery for Anaheim's game-winning goal in the Ducks' 2-1 win on Friday night at United Center, Hjalmarsson heaved his stick at the boards in disgust. He looked like a golfer whose tee shot headed straight into a lake.

It's been that kind of season for the Blackhawks against the Ducks, the team right behind first-place Chicago of the Western Conference standings. Anaheim (23-7-4) not only ended a four-game losing skid, but also swept the three-game season series against Chicago and downed the Blackhawks at the "Madhouse on Madison Street" for the second time.

"I just tried to block it at the end there, and it bounced off my stick … nothing I can do about that," Hjalmarsson said. "I tried to block his shot as much as I could, but you've got to let it go and try to win the game."


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The problem was that only a couple minutes remained, which wasn't nearly enough time for the Hawks on a night they struggled to possess the puck almost the entire game. It was the third time in as many games that the Ducks have scored late to force overtime or beat Chicago outright.

Andrew Cogliano tied the first game 2-2 on Feb. 12 at United Center with 2:40 left in regulation to force OT and an eventual shootout won by Anaheim. Bobby Ryan and Teemu Selanne then scored 1:04 apart late in the third on March 20 at Honda Center to overcome a Blackhawks lead in a 4-2 Ducks win. Now the Hawks have the sour taste of this game to wash out with 15 contests remaining in the regular season – not only the bad bounce, but the overall effort in one of Chicago's ugliest games of an otherwise stellar season.

"We didn't play good defense at all," said Hjalmarsson, who finished with a minus-2 rating and got stuck on the ice for a marathon 2:07 shift along with Johnny Oduya in the second period. "I don't think we got the pucks deep the way we wanted and [there were] a little bit too many odd-man rushes. The way we played defense wasn't good enough."

The defensive problems contributed to the Blackhawks' offensive struggles on a night when they put 26 shots on net against Jonas Hiller and had just Patrick Kane's power-play goal 2:26 into the third to show for it. They did hit iron a couple of times, but it was a night full of missed passes and sloppy play in all zones for one of the NHL's top teams.

"When we're going and rolling as a team, everybody's doing their job and everybody's focused on getting pucks out at our blue line and defensemen all just playing good hockey," Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "That's what it all comes down to, being smart with the puck. They only had two goals, but at the same time I think there [were] chances [for the Ducks] and areas of our game where we could be a lot better – especially the end."

That's the area that gnaws most at Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who already was displeased with not getting at least a point out of the March 20 game in Anaheim. Now it's two straight losses to the Ducks without a single point earned in a race for the conference's top spot against Anaheim.

"We had a chance," Quenneville said. "You can look at the quotes we had the last two games we played them; it's the exact same scenario. It looked like you might get something out of the game and you come up empty [two] games in a row … the exact same time of the game. It's disappointing."

It also happened, for the second time, without injured star forwards Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Both are nearing returns from upper-body injuries and should be in top form for the Hawks by the time the Stanley Cup Playoffs roll around in May, which is something Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau didn't discount.

"Maybe Chicago matches up well with us, but let's not forget they don't have Sharp and Hossa in the lineup," Boudreau said. "Come playoff time, you're playing a team that's not using a physical lineup like they did [Friday night]; they're using a skilled lineup, and you can't for one second just take a breather. The pressure's going to be on you all the time."

That's probably what Hjalmarsson was thinking when he said it would be "fun" to face the Ducks in the postseason despite Chicago's 0-2-1 mark against them.

"I hope we're playing them in the playoffs," he said. "It would be fun. It's been tight games every single game. We know we can play against these guys."

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