CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks plan to feed off the anger they felt in losing Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to fuel them in Game 6 on Wednesday against the Anaheim Ducks at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports) when they try to extend the series to a seventh game.
Chicago erased deficits of 3-0 and 4-2 to tie Game 5 in the dying minutes of regulation with a two-goal flurry from captain Jonathan Toews. But a quick-strike goal from forward Matt Beleskey 45 seconds into overtime gave the Ducks a 5-4 victory and temporary control of the best of-7 series.
Now the Blackhawks face a must-win game Wednesday to extend their season. If not, they will face a disappointing exit late in a conference final series for the second straight season. Last year, Chicago lost to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. The Kings went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Chicago does not want to experience that heartache again, so they are going to use the anger and frustration from falling short in Game 5 against the Ducks to make them better in Game 6, said Chicago forward Andrew Shaw.
"Game 1 (a 4-1 loss) wasn't a good feeling either but we'll use that, harness it and use it to make yourself better in getting ready for tonight's game," Shaw said. "This is an opportunity, it is huge for everyone. To win this game is big, we know that. The bigger the game, the better we are going to play. We are privileged to be here, but we want to keep going."
Here are three keys for the Ducks in Game 6 that, if executed properly, will advance them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2007.
Below also are three keys for the Blackhawks that, if executed properly, will extend this series to a Game 7 on Saturday at Honda Center.
With the stakes so high, there will be an urge to try to win Game 6 in the first period, using the expected surge of adrenaline to push the pace and try to put the Blackhawks on their heels.
But, the Ducks know they will have to fight that urge. Like every other game of this series, it will be slow and steady that triumph. The Ducks are going to have to do all little things well and get control of their emotions to excel against a veteran team feeding off the home crowd.
"It's just making the right play and making the right play at the right time," forward Andrew Cogliano said. "It's not about forcing plays. Tonight is a game where when there is an opportunity for a 3-on-2 or a 2-on-1 you take it obviously, but when there is not, you get the puck in and make the simple play. It's getting pucks to the net. I think we have had success by throwing pucks to the net and making [Blackhawks goalie Corey] Crawford make the first save and then using rebounds. Defensively, it's all about supporting each other. … It's a matter of going to play and doing the right things."
Stay in the moment
The Ducks can't escape the fact that they are a win away the Stanley Cup Final.
But it can't dominate their thoughts. They need to focus on the win and not at the rewards it will bring.
"I mean, I give my head a shake sometimes," said coach Bruce Boudreau, who is trying to get to the Final for the first time. "It is close. Sometimes you don't realize. You say you're one game away to playing for the Stanley Cup.
"I try not to think about that. It's difficult, but you've got to stay in the moment. You got to stay focused at what's at hand. If you start thinking ahead, usually bad things happen. So we'll try to stay focused on what's going to happen [Wednesday]. Whatever happens after that, then we'll either have to worry about the seventh game or we'll be elated about going to play one of the teams that are playing [in the East]."
Display a killer instinct
Anaheim has won each of the two elimination games it played in the first two rounds. The Ducks must draw inspiration from the fact that they have raised their level when the stakes have been raised. Chicago, though, is a different opponent than either the Winnipeg Jets or the Calgary Flames, each of whom does not have a ton of recent playoff experience.
The Ducks must draw inspiration from the fact that they have raised their level when the stakes have been raised. Chicago, though, is a different opponent than either the Winnipeg Jets or the Flames, each of whom does not have a ton of recent playoff experience.
The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup twice since 2011 and been to the Western Conference Final in five of the past seven seasons. They present a far more stringent challenge and the Ducks know they will have to respond with their absolute best game of the playoffs in Game 6.
"We still have the same mindset. You look at the closing games in the first two rounds, we played our game, especially against Winnipeg in the first round," said forward Corey Perry, one of the players on Anaheim's 2007 championship team. "That was probably one of our most complete games that we played. We got the job done. Last series, against Calgary, came into overtime; we got it done again.
"We know what it takes. We know how hard it is to get that fourth win. Chicago's not going to be any different. They're going to throw their best at us. We got to be prepared. They're a great team over there. We're excited for that challenge."
Set the alarm clock
The Blackhawks, by their own admission, were not ready to play at the start of Game 5.
It may have been the result of dead legs from the double-overtime effort in Game 4 two nights earlier. It may have been one of several lulls they have experienced in this series. But the reason does not really matter now.
The Blackhawks know they have to be ready when the puck drops shortly after 7 p.m. local time. The stakes and the enthusiasm of the crowd should help a great deal in that regard. Plus, the Blackhawks had better legs in the second game after their triple-overtime win in Game 2, so they have hope there.
"We have to be playing our best from the outset," coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at Game 5, you say for four games we started the right way. You knew they were going to start on time. We were late. Made a difference in the game.
"We had 40 straight minutes of pretty good hockey, playing the right way. Got ourselves back, almost, in an unbelievable fashion. At the end of the day, the series has been very tight. We got to know that we can't have the lulls that we've had in the last couple games."
Test Andersen early
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 2.06 | SVP: .925
Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen
did not finish Game 5 well. He allowed Chicago to score on the final two shots he faced, including a shot by Toews which originated from the goal line in the corner to the right of Andersen.
Andersen was able to escape with the victory because Anaheim dominated the 45 seconds of overtime before scoring and Chicago was not able to manage a shot before Beleskey put home the rebound of a Ryan Kesler shot.
The Blackhawks are hoping that Andersen is still rattled by his meltdown late in regulation, so they want to test him early and not let him settle into the game.
"That's something we talked about even going into overtime," forward Brandon Saad said. "We get two quick goals like that we want to test him as much as possible. Unfortunately it ended fairly quickly on their side. That's something where momentum can carry over to a game. We want to keep testing him [Wednesday]."
Despite facing elimination, the Blackhawks should not change a thing.
Each of the past four games in this series has been decided by a goal, with each team winning two and three games reaching overtime.
That's how close this series is. Chicago is as good as Anaheim and has more experience in these types of games. They need to dictate the way the game is played, not react to what the Ducks are doing.
If they lose, the Blackhawks want to have the solace of doing all they could to win.
"You can't reinvent the wheel as far as how you play the game and prepare for the game just because it is a bigger game and there is more on the line," Toews said. "I think once you start doing that, that's when you get out of control and start losing yourself out there."