Ducks grind down Blackhawks, take 2-1 series lead
Ducks defenceman Simon Despres (24) celebrates with teammates Ryan Getzlaf (15) and Cam Fowler (4) after scoring the eventual game-winning goal against the Blackhawks during second period action in Game 3 of the Western Conference final in Chicago on Thursday, May 21, 2015. (Jerry Lai/USA TODAY Sports)
At home, the Anaheim Ducks proved they were capable of putting on a show in the opening two games of the Western Conference final, which they did in highly entertaining fashion.
On the road, here in one of the more difficult buildings in the NHL, they were all about taking care of business on Thursday night.
And the Ducks took that business seriously at a United Center they turned abnormally quiet, grinding out a 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks to once again seize the edge in the best-of-seven series they now lead by a similar 2-1 margin.
Nothing about this one was as pretty or as dramatic as Games 1 and 2 back in Southern California, but the victory said a great deal about the resiliency of a Ducks team that is now just two wins away from advancing to its first Stanley Cup final since 2007.
“The will on this team, you could see it since training camp,” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said afterwards. “We haven’t won anything, but their resiliency is as good as most.
“What it told me is what I know -- that they are a great character team.”
We’re about to find out how the ‘Hawks stack up in that department, facing what will be close to a must-win contest back here on Saturday night.
Their speed was throttled down by the Ducks' efficiency and the throbbing hangover of the three overtime session in Game 2. It was Anaheim that dictated the style in this one, a disturbance the ‘Hawks will need to reverse quickly in Game 4.
“It was more of a mental battle for everyone,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. “Both teams were tired, you could tell. The pace wasn’t as high, but I think that was a character win for us.”
If you watched the Ducks in the regular season, you knew they were efficient wherever they played, piling up a Western Conference best 25-12-4 road record (further embellished with a 4-1 away record so far these playoffs) with many of those wins coming in difficult venues.
“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 why ... I just know that the guys come to play. This was a very good checking game for us.”
Simon Despres’ one-time blast in the final minute of the second period stood up as the game winner, an opportune finish in a game with far fewer golden opportunities than in the action in Anaheim.
“I’m not a goal scorer,” said Despres, who has just six in 166 regular-season NHL games. “I just tried to hit the net and get it off as quick as possible.”
In the latest road triumph, the Ducks were successful because they played a more grinding, controlled game and once again did what they could to make the ‘Hawks pay physically.
“We knew we were going to have to bring our work boots tonight,” Ducks winger Patrick Maroon said. “I thought we did a good job of that.”
Yes, it’s only one game, but the Blackhawks looked the wearier of the two, in part because in the playoffs size and the ability to use it matters.
Afterwards, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville made a plea to pick up the pace in Game 3. They could certainly start on the power play where they were a miserable 0-for-5 in Game 3, with just one shot on net. Worst was a frustrating four-minute session in the first period when they didn’t generate a single scoring chance.
It won’t be easy for the ‘Hawks to bounce back, and credit to the Ducks for that. They knew they would were coming into a tough building where a crowd of 22,160 would be ready to celebrate the ‘Hawks three OT triumph back in Anaheim.
But other than during the always fabulous version of the Star Spangled Banner by anthem singer Jim Cornelison, the response to Patrick Kane’s first-period goal and the final flurry with Corey Crawford out of the net for an extra attacker, the atmosphere fizzled.
“I know in here we tried to keep things as simple as we possible could,” Ducks defenceman Cam Fowler said. “It’s never easy when you lose in three overtimes and you have a 3 1/2 hour flight here. I think there’s a lot of things that went into it, but I’m really proud of our guys for how they battled.”
They have regained the home-ice advantage, but the way the Ducks play, it doesn’t seem to matter where they drop the puck. The ‘Hawks have to hope they can summon the same.
“You have to win four games, it doesn’t really matter where you win them,” Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook said. “We have to be the first to four. We have to come out and have a big effort in Game 4 and try to even this thing up.”