CHICAGO -- There might be some heavy legs among the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports), but they will be mitigated somewhat by a combination of emotion and desperation.
For the Blackhawks, the emotion will come from returning to their home arena to play a game for the first time in 18 days. Chicago last played at United Center in Game 2 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Minnesota Wild, a 4-1 victory May 3.
"I think our players know the advantage, the perk of playing in front of such a passionate fan base, the excitement," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We look forward to this. I think playing here at home against a good road team here, it's going to be a good test."
For the Ducks the desperation will come from the desire to dictate by regaining control of the fate of the series. Much like Chicago earlier this week, Anaheim knows it needs to win a road game and the best way to clear that hurdle is to do so immediately.
Here are three keys for the Ducks in Game 3 that, if executed properly, will give them a chance to regain command of the series.
Also here are three keys for the Blackhawks that, if executed properly, give them their best chance to move within two wins of another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
1. Tune out the distractions
The Ducks know playing on the road is tough. They know playing in Chicago raises it a level. But they also know they have won on the road, 26 times during the regular season and three times in four chances in the postseason. They need to have no fears about United Center and its reputation.
"We're accustomed to playing and being successful on the road," Boudreau said. "You go, you do your job, and that's the way we've been. It's hard to put a finger on exactly why you're so successful or why you've been successful on the road. I just know the guys come to play, which is why you win 50-plus games in a year."
Forward Jakob Silfverberg said the Ducks have played in hostile buildings already this postseason, talking up the intense experience of playing at the Winnipeg Jets, who were in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since relocating, and at the Calgary Flames.
"We don't look at it as the toughest, we look at it as one of the more fun buildings to play in," Silfverberg said. "It gets really loud in here and the crowd gets really into it. That was the case in Calgary and Winnipeg. But we more so embraced it than feared it and I think that is what we are going to do [Thursday]."
2. Ride the wave
This series, to date, has been one of emotional swings.
Each team has taken turns dictating play. Chicago dominated the first period of Game 1 but could not score and lost 4-1. Anaheim dominated the second period of Game 2, outshooting Chicago 17-1, but could not get the lead. Chicago scored two power-play goals in the first seven minutes of Game 2 but could not build on it and allowed Anaheim back in the game.
"When you look at the times they have gotten going and buzzing, it is us not playing to our identity," Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri said.
Anaheim knows the series will play out along the lines of the heavyweight fight it has been billed as. Anaheim will wander from its structure and will be put on the defensive. The ability to absorb the body punches, and occasional knockout punch, will be the key to Anaheim prospering.
"If you look back at it, to sum it up, in Game 1 we had that first period when they were all over us but we ended up with a 1-0 lead," Palmieri said. "Then you look at the second period for Game 1 and we dominated most of that period and then they get one at the end of that period and it's not as bad as it felt.
"It's riding that emotional wave and knowing there will be ups and downs. For us, it is staying at that even keel that will be key."
3. Stay close
Anaheim has not allowed this high-flying Chicago team to score once during an extended period of zone play at even strength.
In almost nine periods of play Chicago has scored four goals. Two came on the power play in the first period of Game 2. One came on a turnover which led to a Brad Richards goal in the second period of Game 1. The other was the game-winner in Game 2, in which Chicago gained the zone, passed the puck between the points and then scored off the rebound of a shot by Brent Seabrook.
Silfverberg said the Ducks have been able to survive the Blackhawks' forays into the attacking zone because they have focused on taking away time and space from their skill players.
"They have some guys with really good skill and guys that are really good at moving the puck around at 5-on-5 and creating chances. So far we have been eliminating that and that is what we have to keep doing and not taking as many penalties as we did in the last game," he said. "We just have to make sure when their key guys are out on the ice that we are taking time and space away from them and not let them have their usual fun. We have to make sure we are in their face."
1. Dictate the matchups
One of the advantages of playing at home is having the last say when it comes to on-ice personnel.
For the Blackhawks, that luxury will be most important in deploying its defensive personnel.
In the first two games Quenneville was somewhat hamstrung in deploying the two defenseman he was trying to shelter. In Game 1 Kimmo Timonen played 5:15 and David Rundblad was limited to 10:47. In Game 2, which lasted more than 116 minutes, Timonen played 16:45 and Kyle Cumiskey, Rundblad's replacement, played 18:34. Each of Chicago's other four defenseman played more than 40 minutes.
Timonen and Cumiskey particularly had trouble when Anaheim was able to deploy its bigger forwards, who excel at cycling the puck in the offensive zone.
Now Quenneville can avoid those disadvantageous matchups by spotting Cumiskey, who remains in, and Timonen in situations that magnify their skill set and against personnel from the Ducks that are not seen as a mismatch.
"Yeah hopefully," Cumiskey said when asked about being put in situations that are the most manageable. "It'll be easier to match lines for sure. Have to wait and see what happens."
2. Feed off the crowd
The crowd at United Center is one of the most celebrated in the League. The fans bring it throughout the postseason and can impact a game with their energy, creating a ruckus that makes communication on the ice difficult at key points.
And unlike the players, who are less than 48 hours removed from playing a triple-overtime game, the crowd will be well-rested. They have not cheered for their team in person for almost three weeks. It has been a long time since Game 2 against Minnesota. There will be a lot of pent-up energy to be unleashed Thursday.
"I think obviously we mentioned this after the last game, the enthusiasm we're going to have in this building, the anthem here," Quenneville said. "Great place to be. The enthusiasm in the city gets more intense as we go along. I think everybody probably had a long day at work yesterday and are looking forward to [the] game."
3. Push the pace
The Blackhawks are one of the quickest teams in the League. They've had their success in this series when they have been able to avoid the forecheck and get into transition, using a quick attack to put the Ducks on their heels and establish a bit of zone time.
The Blackhawks, though, will be the first to admit they have not done this enough in the first two games. They point to it as a main reason that they have one 5-on-5 goal in 176 minutes of this series.
"We have a lot of guys that can make plays," forward Andrew Shaw said. "And a lot of guys with speed. We have to keep our game up."