ANAHEIM – The Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have played a lot of mentally taxing and physically demanding hockey already in the Western Conference Final.
Two of the first four games took more than one overtime to settle. To make matters more difficult, each of those marathon games came the night before a travel day.
The Blackhawks won Game 2 3-2 in the third overtime to even the series at 1-1 the night before the series moved to Chicago. Each team flew to the Windy City less than 12 hours after Marcus Kruger scored the overtime winner the night before.
Saturday, in Game 4, Antoine Vermette was in the right place at the right time to give the Blackhawks a 5-4 win at United Center at 5:37 of the second overtime, evening the series at 2-2.
But neither team believes fatigue will be an issue in what is now a race for two more wins in the best-of-7 series, beginning Monday at Honda Center (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).
The Blackhawks are flying high after escaping another jam Saturday, surviving a blown two-goal lead and the stunning effects of the Ducks scoring three goals in 37 seconds of the third period. In Game 2, Chicago also survived a blown two-goal lead before winning 56:12 past regulation.
The Ducks, meanwhile, believe they are winning the war of attrition and that if they keep pushing forward and dictating the physical pace at which this series is played, the investments made in the first four games in that area will begin to manifest themselves during the next week.
Plus, each team has the power of advanced science keeping it as fresh as possible. Each flew out in the morning each time the series has switched venues, a relatively new development. As recently as a few years back, teams would leave as soon as a game ended, often landing in the early-morning hours of the next day.
“In the '70s and '80s, they didn't realize how important rest was. Now teams have sleep doctors and such,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think rest at this time of the year is a weapon. You have to use it, rather than wasting a day of getting home at 3:00 in the morning. Because your kids don't know you're on the road, they're still getting up at 7:00, jumping into bed with daddy. Rest is really important.
“It's changed. The change in the years is the conditioning of the athlete. It's quite different than it was when I played. These guys eat properly. They go after the game, they're not going out, they're going back to the hotel, having a good meal and going to bed. I don't think we could say the same for the '70s and '80s.”
Here are three keys for the Ducks in Game 5 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 also are three keys for the Blackhawks that, if executed properly, give them the chance to make it back to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in six seasons:
1. Forget Game 4
There is nothing Anaheim can do about Game 4. It lost, blew a third-period lead, and forfeited the chance to put the Blackhawks on the ropes.
The Ducks know that. It stings something fierce, but the key is to compartmentalize it, to put that pain and anger somewhere it will not surface, and focus on Game 5.
It should help Anaheim that it was able to do that in Game 3, winning a key game two nights after losing in triple overtime.
"Our record in one-goal games is next to none basically this season,” captain Ryan Getzlaf said. “Going into overtime, same thing, same strategy. We got to keep playing, doing the things we do well."
2. Start fast
The Ducks have carried play for long periods of this series, but rarely have they started a game that way.
In Game 1, Chicago got off to a strong start, although Anaheim had the 1-0 lead at the first intermission of a 4-1 win. In Game 2, the Blackhawks scored two power-play goals in the first seven minutes, and the Ducks had to fight back before losing 3-2 in the third overtime. In Game 3, the play was more even, and the teams left the ice after one tied at 1-1. Saturday, Chicago scored first and got its crowd into it and used that momentum to build a 3-1 lead.
“We want to improve upon our starts,” Ducks forward Kyle Palmieri said. “That’s something that we have talked about the last couple of games. We haven’t gotten the starts we wanted. We went out there a little bit on our heels and they were all over us the first couple of first periods."
As mentioned, the Blackhawks scored two early power-play goals in Game 2 to set the tone. In Game 4, Patrick Kane's goal that helped send the game to overtime came on the power play in the third period.
Anaheim needs to revisit the things it did right in Games 1 and 3, specifically disrupting Chicago’s ability to get clean zone entries.
The Ducks also know they need to take fewer penalties. They have 17 minors in the first four games, and that has put their penalty-killers under a bit of duress throughout this series, especially with the skill players the Blackhawks trot out on the power play.
“We just got to go out there, work, try to get our special teams to where they need to be,” Getzlaf said. “If we're able to win that special-teams battle, we can do a lot of things."
1. Embrace the past
Chicago has been to the Western Conference Final five times in the past seven seasons, including this year. Success like that changes players for the better. They have been exposed to every possible situation and have come out on the plus side more often than not.
This is a team that knows how to close. In the past seven seasons, the Blackhawks have been in seven series tied at 2-2. They have not lost a game beyond Game 4 in any of those series, with a 14-0 record in such a situation.
“Trying to win the Cup has some amazing swings, highs and lows, twists and turns,” Chicago coach Joel Quennevile said. “The deeper you get in games, the deeper you get in series, it's all the more challenging. We love our group's experience and know-how and will to find ways.”
2. Play inside the whistles
The Ducks like to take the body and intimidate. Often their efforts extend past the whistle with bumping, jostling and verbal attacks.
Chicago has done a good job in this series of not taking the bait offered by Anaheim. As a result, the Blackhawks have had more power plays than the Ducks and have been able to do some damage when their power play is humming. Chicago has eight goals in its two wins and three have come on the power play.
“We'll always remind them about discipline,” Quenneville said. “One thing, we always want to play hard inside the whistles. You find the first rounds are usually the most intense as far as extracurriculars after whistles."
3. Get to their game first
The Blackhawks know a fast start bodes well for them. It will allow them to take the holiday crowd out of the mix at Honda Center, and it will plant the seed of doubt and fear in the Ducks of how hard it will be to knock them off.
But, aside from the Vermette game-winner, Chicago did not manufacture much in either overtime period in Game 4. The Blackhawks need to send the message not only to the Ducks that they can carry the play, but also to themselves. They know it provides them with the best opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in the series.
“We have to come out with a good effort off the start,” Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “I think our starts have been key. When we start well, we usually give ourselves a chance to have a good game and get a win. That's going to be [Monday's] theme, I'm sure, getting off to a good start and trying to do some good things in a hostile building in Anaheim."