CHICAGO – There's enough experience in the Chicago Blackhawks' dressing room to understand what is at stake in Game 4 of the Western Conference Final.
A loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, TVA Sports) will put the Blackhawks at the brink of extinction, trailing the series 3-1 against a big, punishing team that will have two of the final three games of the series in its building.
A victory, though, will even the series. It will also put an inkling of doubt in the minds of the Ducks, who have not had much success in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and blew a 3-2 series lead against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Second Round last year.
"We're down two games to one this series [and] I think maybe, to a certain extent, guys in this room are thinking of that," Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said. "Of course we don't want to go down three games to one but tonight we can think of it as our Game 7 and we'll go out there and play our best game of the series; find a way to win [and] put ourselves in a spot that we want to be in."
Here are three keys for the Ducks in Game 3 that, if executed properly, will give them a chance to move within one win of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2007 championship season.
Below are also three keys for the Blackhawks that, if executed properly, give them the chance to make this the showdown they crave.
Penalties are a part of the game. They can't be avoided. But, the lazy, or undisciplined, stick fouls that plagued the Ducks in Game 3 can be averted with more focus.
On Thursday, Jakob Silfverberg took a four-minute high-sticking minor for catching Toews with his stick in the neutral zone. Ryan Getzlaf took a high-sticking penalty against Andrew Shaw on the backcheck in the third period.
Yes, Anaheim killed those penalties and built momentum off the success, but they know the percentages will eventually catch up with them if they continue down that path.
"We've made it a point of emphasis," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You know eventually you get more than three penalties a game, it ends up biting you. We've been treading the water right now. We know that we have to move our legs a little bit more and we can't take stick penalties in the offensive zone."
Stay in slow lane
The Ducks can skate as well as the Blackhawks. They just don't want to, at least for long stretches of time.
Instead, the Ducks want to slow the game down as much as possible. They center their game around it, whether it is their physical play on the forecheck, their denial of easy entry into the attacking zone or their willingness to freeze the puck in their own end to reset.
"We can't play a run-and-gun game," Getzlaf said. "We're not a team that's built to skate up and down the rink all night long and trade chances. We're just not built that way. We have to be able to execute our system and the things we want to do.
"We've been doing a fairly good job of that so far. There's been points throughout games where they've handed us in, got to their cycle game a little bit more. But, you know, those are points that we have to address and keep doing what we're doing going forward."
Anaheim has done several things to frustrate Chicago in the first three games. But, maybe the most effective has been its ability to get in the way of shots. Anaheim has blocked 84 shots in the first three games.
The Blackhawks have three even-strength goals in almost 12 periods in this series and have spent much of the series talking about how they need to get their shots off faster and alter the places on the ice from which they like to shoot.
"From Day 1 coming to this team, I noticed starting from our leaders, [Getzlaf] on the penalty kill, [Andrew Cogliano], it starts with our forwards blocking shots," defenseman Clayton Stoner said. "We've always done it here. It's kind of a culture around here that everybody sacrifices, whether you're the top player or a fourth-line guy. Doesn't really matter, everybody is willing to sacrifice.
"I don't think you see that on every team. It's a cool thing to see on this team, for sure."
Game 4 will be playoff game No. 107 for the Blackhawks in the past seven seasons.
During that run they have seen just about every situation imaginable. They have come back from deficits in the past. They know what lies ahead not only in Game 4, but for the remainder of the series, win or lose.
They will trot out all the clichés about embracing the opportunity before them and bringing their best game, but none of that can happen unless the Blackhawks are loose, confident and having as much fun as a make-or-break game allows.
"We don't want to let them get too comfortable or too far ahead in this series where we need to play catch-up," Toews said. "We have a good opportunity to even the series at home, and we know that there's still another level we can get to and we're working to get there. We just have to have fun and embrace it and make the best of it. We've got the ability. We've got the guys in there that can do the job."
Dominate the dot
The Ducks have no qualms about slowing the game down by taking a whistle. They believe they can win the majority of the faceoffs and will double down on that bet by talking a defensive-zone faceoff when they are in trouble.
In Game 3, they iced the puck three times in the game's final two minutes. Chicago didn't generate much off those faceoffs, even though Toews won all three. Other than Toews, the other Chicago centers struggled in the faceoff circle.
In a series that is about puck possession, that will not do. The Blackhawks will need all four centers going well.
"We try to do everything, talk about it, talk about their tendencies and stuff like that," center Marcus Kruger said. "It's something we try to take very seriously."
Kruger, one of the team's top faceoff players, did not take any draws in Game 3, but said he will take some in Game 4.
The Blackhawks had more than nine minutes of man-advantage time in the first period and managed one shot. For the game, they went 0-for-5 on the power play. It became a huge storyline as the game progressed. Chicago grew frustrated and Anaheim gained confidence as the struggles continued.
Coach Joel Quenneville said Saturday that the inefficiency on the man advantage spilled over into other parts of the game and slowed Chicago down a bit at times. The key for Chicago, the players say, is to get a clear entry into the zone. That, however, has been an issue for long stretches for Chicago, regardless of the situation.
"[Thursday], we were wasting too much time on our entries and turning pucks over, not getting that extra effort to get the puck in," forward Brandon Saad said. "That hurt the power play a lot."