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Ducks plan to stick to game, not adapt to Blackhawks

by Curtis Zupke /

ANAHEIM -- It's not as if the Anaheim Ducks have had it easy in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They needed their share of ice packs against the Winnipeg Jets. They were taken to overtime twice and had to come from behind in six of their eight wins.

But Anaheim will really be tested when it plays the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final. Game 1 is at Honda Center on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

Chicago is considerably more skilled than Anaheim's first two postseason opponents, the Jets and Calgary Flames. The Blackhawks are averaging 3.20 goals, third most in the playoffs (Anaheim's 3.89 per game is first); Calgary averaged 2.46, and Winnipeg 2.25.

Chicago is one of the few teams that can match Anaheim in skill, speed and depth, and it figures to stretch what has been a solid Ducks defense in front of goalie Frederik Andersen.

"They definitely have a team that can skate, that's for sure," Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler said. "They love to really stretch you out defensively. They get a couple of guys to blow the zone and push our defense back, and that gives them a lot of areas for their skill guys to get to work and make some plays. The more we can keep things compact and keep people in their face, that's advantageous for us. But they make it difficult because they like to stretch things out, and that's what makes them so dynamic."

Regular-season games between the Ducks and Blackhawks have been highly entertaining the past few seasons, but this will be their first postseason series.

Chicago won convincingly in two games in Anaheim this season. Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane scored two goals in a 4-1 win Nov. 28 and two in a 4-1 victory Jan.30.

Left wing Patrick Sharp had four assists, and center Brad Richards had a goal and two assists with 11 shots.

Anaheim defeated Chicago 1-0 with goalie John Gibson's 38-save shutout at United Center on Oct. 28.

The Blackhawks outshot the Ducks 38-25, 38-24 and 33-22 in the three games.

"Each team is unique in its own way, and Chicago brings about a lot of challenges that maybe the last couple of teams didn't," Fowler said. "That's what we're trying to prepare for. But you can only watch so much video on another team. You have to worry about yourself."

That has been the refrain from the Ducks, who have adjusted to the opposition in the playoffs each of the past two years with unfavorable results.

Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who usually is generous with praise of the opponent, kept the focus on the Ducks on Thursday. He didn't elaborate much when talking about matching lines or defending Chicago's speed and skill.

"Yeah, we know all about their reputation and everything, but we're focused on how good we can be," Boudreau said. "We want to get better and better each series, and hopefully that will happen starting Sunday."

Earlier this week, Boudreau acknowledged the Blackhawks present a difficult challenge.

"They skate. They defend. They can play whichever game you want to play," he said. "We know we're up against a team that's got a great mindset and that didn't win the Cup last year and is probably a little angry about that (Chicago lost Game 7 of the conference final in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings)."

Andersen was 0-2-0 with a 3.52 goals-against average against Chicago this season. But it's been more than three months since his last game against the Blackhawks, and he's been the Ducks' rock in the playoffs with his calm demeanor.

Ryan Kesler previously said Chicago was beatable, seemingly underlining Anaheim's confidence against a team with much more playoff experience top to bottom.

"They're a little faster team," Andersen said. "They're a little more skilled, so it's going to be another big challenge. We've played two really good teams and we've succeeded playing in our way, the way we're supposed to play, and we're going to have to do that again."

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