“Now the focus is off Andersen,” someone from the local Anaheim newspaper said this weekend. It didn’t take long for a bright LED spotlight to find the Ducks’ netminder again on Sunday afternoon. The first period of the Chicago-Ducks game was characterized by three things: Ducks giveaways, Chicago shots, and Andersen saves.
The shots were 16-7, Chicago’s favor, and the score 1-0. The fact that that number was to the good of Anaheim is why so-called fancy stats are mostly just blather. You can’t stat-ify great goaltending. You just have to find ways to beat it, and Chicago did not do that in period one.
The one stat which was way off in terms of what was recorded was the giveaways. The official NHL numbers had it Chicago 5, Ducks 6. Maybe what’s needed is a quality-of-gives number, because the fact was, the Ducks put the puck right on Chicago sticks, when the players in question had position and speed, at least five times in the first.
Cam Fowler put the puck across the middle of the ice in his own zone with three Hawks looming. Getzlaf couldn’t handle it, and it was turned over. Two more pucks went right to Chicago players later in the period, one at the Anaheim blueline and one at the Chicago blueline, but the thing was, each time, the intercepting player was ready for it, and burst toward the Anaheim end. Later, Hossa stripped Getzlaf of the puck at the blueline. A glance at the scoreboard showed that the shots were Chicago 15, Anaheim 5 at this point.
And Chicago had other chances. Late in the going, a puck went off the Anaheim end boards and straight through the crease. Then one went left to right in the Anaheim zone and through the crease again. Each time, someone was there to try to put a stick on it, but it flew past him.
The Ducks had their moments in P1, but the Hawks were all over them, capitalizing on the aforementioned mistakes and more. The difference was the cool hand of Andersen. He played a contained period, never out of position despite the crowd and chaos around him. His glove hand was often where the puck ended up. And as indicted, the shots were 16-7 for Chicago, but the score 1-0 for the home team after 20 minutes.
Patrick Kane complimented the Anaheim goalie afterwards. “He’s a great goaltender. I think we expected that. He’s a battler, and you saw that on numerous saves he had tonight. When it seemed like we had a chance to score, he gets a leg or a stick on it. We knew on the scouting report on him. We’ve just got to bear down a little more on those opportunities.”
Anaheim had made but two lineup changes coming into the game. Out were Fleischmann and Jackman, and in were Etem and Sekac. For the latter, it was his debut in the post-season. The lines thus changed a little bit, but the top three didn’t show any difference. Getzlaf, Perry, Maroon; Kesler, Silfverberg, Beleskey; Cogliano, Palmieri, Thompson; Rakell, Etem, and Sekac. The latter were not seen a great deal. By the end of the game, each had about nine minutes of playing time.
The second period started with another Hawks’ flurry but again saw the Ducks score. Now, it’s not fair to pick on one guy, but let’s just say that Mr. Rundblad, who had at least in part cost Chicago their first given-up goal, was fully to blame for goal number two by Anaheim. The puck went toward the corner, and he made a weak attempt to clear and gave it away. Then he missed it as it went back by him. Then he stood still while Palmieri came out of the corner with it and launched a shot into the top far side of the net.
Just to circle back to that period one goal—Rundblad had lost his check at the blueline, and the puck went to the corner. He then proceeded to the front of the net and fell down, allowing a screen on what seemed a routine shot from the blueline.
Duncan Keith wasn’t willing to critique Rundblad’s defensive shortcomings after the game. “I thought he made some nice plays. Like the rest of us, we can all do better. We’ve got to move on here.”
He further said that having a lot of rest from the prior series didn’t really make much difference to him. “A day or two or long rest, it’s the same. You’d almost rather have a little less rest.” But neither of these things tells the truth about the Chicago D corps, which is four men and two hangers-on, Rundblad and Timonen.
“We’re going to have to be better, but we’re going to have to learn from it. We’ve got a lot of respect for them, for their depth. They’re on top of the Western Conference for a reason. They have depth. We’ll learn about today, and do better next time,” Keith added to the above.
So one theme was working to the Ducks’ advantage: the Chicago defense has holes. Their top four guys might be great, but their last two are a mini-disaster. In comments after the game, Coach Quenneville was asked about his defensive newbie, and that fellow’s troubles. “I think we’re fine. In these situations, you want to keep it simple. We’ll work our way through it,” he said. He didn’t say how, and you’ve got to think that if there were a better choice, he would have already made it.
Rundblad’s redemption came later in the period, when he was on the ice for the Chicago first goal. He had nothing to do with that one, and, in fact, had given up the puck just prior on an ill-advised pass coming out of his zone. But the goal: the puck was in the Anaheim end, and Beauchemin was trying to clear it out when Brad Richards got a stick on it, freed it up and carried around the defenseman, and then put on up and over Andersen long side. There were just 39.6 seconds left, and to that point, the Ducks had gotten away with a lot of very sloppy play. The shots through two periods were Anaheim 15, Blackhawks 25.
In fact, the Hawks had every right to think that they should have been ahead at that point, Instead, it was 2-1 Anaheim. Quenneville said after the game, “We had a real good start. The second period we played alright too, but we didn’t get to the net as much as we’d like. We got the puck to the net, but not the bodies and the traffic. We started the right way, but playing catch-up is not what you want.”
Chicago had also survived a sequence where they iced the puck twice in a row and had to take their timeout because Hjalmarsson appeared to have been hurt. He took to the bench when the first whistle went, and was put back on the ice by the referee. Then they had to take the timeout to get him somewhat healthy. He did play about seven minutes in the third, roughly his average for a period.
They would not score again, but the Ducks would, twice. The final one was into the open net with the goalie pulled (that happened with more than two minutes left) and the Hawks down 3-1
Though Anaheim won 4-1, they did everything they could to let the Blackhawks back in the game in period three. They gave consecutive power plays, for instance, at 3:04 and 5:32. As the first began, it was Ducks 18, Chicago 25 in shots. The Blackhawks fired three dangerous shots on the power play, including a shot-rebound-shot sequence that Andersen stopped with Bickell and Saad right in front. After this, diving across the crease, he was hit in the face with Bickell’s stick. The trainer came out. Jason LaBarbera looked on earnestly from the press area (yes he did—he was seated just below me). Andersen shook it off.
The second power play of the period was a bust for Chicago, and at mid-period it was Ducks 20, Hawks 25 in SOG. The Ducks pressured. They got goal three with eight minutes left to go. It was a long clear up by the Ducks that Keith almost intercepted. In fact, that would have recorded a statistical turnover, but that it was such a hard pass that it bounced off his stick and was grabbed by Lindholm, then passed to Cogliano and put home by Nate Thompson.
The Ducks Cogliano had a few things to say about his line’s play and the team’s play afterwards. “I needed a bit of a wakeup call in that Calgary series, and I obviously came back and played a little closer to my game. We [his line] wanted to be aggressive and on our toes, and we did that tonight. It’s huge to get off on the right foot. We went into the Western Conference Finals to have fun, though it’s a learning experience. For most of the guys in this room, it’s the first time. It’s going to be a battle and an emotional series. You never know who’s going to break through at that time.”
To reach back to another key theme, depth and balance of scoring, of the Ducks’ four goals, one was by the defense, two were from the third line, and one was from the second line. The only point that any first-line player had was Getzlaf’s secondary assist on the empty net goal.
Is there a strategy that the Blackhawks can use to improve in game two? Quenneville said, “We’ve got to make quicker shot selection, and get more bodies at the net, and go from there. Screens and second layers are what we need.”
On his end of things, coach Boudreau knew his team was not as good as they needed to be. “We weren’t very good in the first period,” he said. We got lucky a couple of times that they didn’t score a couple of goals.” One was by Patrick Kane, who had the puck in the scoring area but couldn’t pull the trigger.
Kane mused about that chance in the locker room: “You know, I thought I did everything right on the play. He just had his stick there, and it went along the ice. I think if it hadn’t, I would have had a better chance of scoring there. It would have been nice to get that chance and bury it, in the first period, obviously. But we played well. We had a good start to the game, did everything we wanted to. But it’s tough when you play that way and go into the first [intermission] down one. I don’t think we were panicking or anything. We knew we had a good period. We just had to capitalize on some of our chances.”
Back to Boudreau. He said, “It was not our A game. They probably had eight chances before we had one. But we were opportunistic.” That is a trait that the Ducks have exhibited all year.
The Ducks now wait for game two at the oddball time for SoCal of 6pm on Tuesday.
Shots were 33-27 Blackhawks, but the game was not that close. The Ducks got lucky, to be frank.
Hits were 44-34 for Anaheim, which is to say, roughly even since the game was in the home building. The Ducks need to pound harder on Chicago’s defense as the series goes on.
Faceoffs were about even, 52-48% in Anaheim’s favor.
The Ducks are a dangerous team in the third, this playoffs, with a +15 goal differential, way ahead of the next nearest team, at +4. They are first in third-period goals, with 1.80, and they are allowing only .30 goals against in P3.