The first year you live in California, assuming you move there as an adult, is weird. The calendar says “Thanksgiving,” and people are acting like it’s late November. But you’re driving around with your car’s air conditioning on, and the only difference in the weather seems to be that it’s not absolutely blazing hot. It’s only 80.

When you’ve been here a while, you start to distinguish fall more easily. There are leaves falling. The nights are decidedly chilly. And it doesn’t seem so odd that people are wearing shorts to the mall on Black Friday.

You carry forward your old, cold-weather Christmas shopping tradition, in other words, and you start to look for new ones. Friday, with the Ducks playing Chicago in an afternoon contest, is one of those. It’s so familiar it’s a cliché to hockey fans in SoCal. The Blackhawks are on their “circus trip.” What?

They’ve vacated their building for 10 days to allow the good old three-ring go in. Heck, maybe by now it’s more than three. I haven’t been to the circus for two decades or more. But I’m guessing they’ve still got zebras and elephants, and that Chicago kiddies from all corners of town are enjoying themselves with a wad of cotton candy and big heaping boxes of CrackerJack.

Their favorite players, meanwhile, were at the Honda Center in Anaheim to take on the Ducks. That team is, if you listen to one hockey expert, “starting to get better.” But they have a tradition of losing this post-Thanksgiving game to Chicago. The last three years, that’s happened.

Speaking of traditions, the Ducks have hosted 14 games on the day after Thanksgiving. They have all been in the afternoon. And their record coming into this year’s contest was 7-4-3. When they play away on this day, their record is 9-5-4. Interesting that each of those adds up to dead even.

This is the ninth time the Ducks have hosted the Windy City team on this day, and up until this year, they were 4-3-1. The two Anaheim stars, Perry and Getzlaf, have respectively 6 and 7 points in these contests coming into this season. That wouldn’t change as the afternoon unfolded.

The fact is, the Chicago team is quite good on their circus trip year after year. Last year, they won in Colorado on Thanksgiving-eve, then won in Anaheim, and went to LA and did it once more. This propelled them to a season-high eight wins in a row. The year before that, they won the last six games of this road swing, which was their longest victory run in the entire season.

Part of what makes the trip fun is a stay in Las Vegas in the middle. They took that break last Sunday following their game against Vancouver and before their game Wednesday in San Jose. They went to Sin City after losing to Vancouver, then triumphed in San Jose.

So they found themselves in Anaheim for a very unusual 2pm start. Of note were the lineups. The Ducks main goalie, Frederik Andersen, is out with the flu, day–to-day, and thus John Gibson is up. Andersen played up until two games ago, but now has missed three. Apparently, he was too sick even to report to the rink Thursday.

The team’s backup goalie, Anton Khudobin, started the game against Calgary on Tuesday, but he was ineffective and after letting in two goals on five shots and was replaced by Gibson, who went on to the win. Gibson then started on Wednesday in Arizona, but lost. He was first in net Friday as well.

His style is awkward. He flings himself around the crease, looking out of control at times. It’s not the controlled chaos of a Hasek-type style, though. Another odd thing is that when he smothers a puck, he often seems to squeeze his arms into his body as if he isn’t quite sure he has it. Maybe it’s the opposite and he’s just making sure that he does. Anyway, it looks funny, and I wonder whether it inspires confidence in his teammates.

The Ducks are also extending the call-up of Nick Ritchie, playing in his seventh game. He still has no points recorded, but he was in and around the net playing on a line with Kesler and Silfverberg Friday. In period three, for instance, he took a fade-away wrist shot that Crawford saved, then zoomed to the net for the rebound. No luck. He was still there when the puck went to the point and was shot in. He didn’t get a piece of it. But he did chase it to the corner and try to turn it back on net right after. He’ll score soon. As coach Boudreau said the other night, “He’s getting his looks.”

He’s also quite trusted. He’s on what might be labeled the third line, and that meant being out even near the end of the Chicago game, matched up with what was by this time the Toews-Kane duo, those two having been put together by Quenneville for heavy-duty offense in the waning moments.

Other than the scratch of Korbinian Holzer, the Ducks’ lineup is what it has been for a few weeks, essentially. One person on the roster but scratched and who has not played yet this year in the NHL is Chris Mueller. He is a lifer in the AHL, really, having been there since 2007-08. His NHL totals show 53 games played with 3-7-10 points. He started his hockey career with four years at Michigan State.

As for the Blackhawks, Duncan Keith is back to work after his early injury, playing in his 7th game back and his 13th of the season. It was his team’s 23rd. He has talled 3-3-6 points this year thus far, but as the Ducks learned last spring, his contribution is far more than that. (Remember the ‘we’ll hit Keith hard and wear him down’ idea? Yeah, didn’t work, as he dominated the Ducks in their third-round playoff series.)

His contribution, as was said in the Chicago press this week, is not figured in scoring stats but in the fact that he contributes on almost every play, and he’s in on a lot of them. His minutes are ungodly—27 minutes in his first game back, not less than 23 since, 29 against San Jose, and 26 against the Ducks. Oh yeah. He also had a goal and an assist. But wait for that.

The action started early with the Ducks scoring after Patrick Kane made a horrible dump-in that was given straight to the Anaheim defense. Kane, after dishing up the gift (maybe I should say “turkey,” stood on the blueline while two Ducks’ forwards got behind him. When the pass came out of the zone to Hagelin, Kane was caught on the right side, and Duncan Keith was desperately trying to get back on the other side. Cogliano and Hagelin went in together, and the puck ended up in the net off a Cogliano deke from left to right side followed by a backhand.

The large Chicago contingent in the Anaheim arena was suddenly silent. The Ducks’ fans, who by this point had arrived to almost fill the arena, cheered madly.

They would do it again in period two. The Ducks had survived some penalty troubles, including two in a row, without surrendering a goal, and they then had a power play of their own set up when Andrew Shaw hacked—very weakly—Ryan Kesler, who went down into the boards. The ref didn’t buy Shaw’s “dive” gesture, though if there had been a pool around . . . .

Anaheim scored when Kesler lost the puck at the blueline, saw it picked up by Lindholm and passed over to Stewart, and then, almost by accident, directed into the net.

As the play set up, Maroon went to the net in the slot, and when the puck went to Stewart, every eye in the building saw that he was going to pass it. Every mind in the building, or at least the hockey minds, said, “Shoot it!” He somehow got the mixed message and tried to pass, had the puck bounce back to him and whacked it into the net. Weird play, but it made the game 2-0.

The Ducks sat back in period three after coming out on the power play. By mid-period, Chicago had evened the shots. It got better for them. From about minute 10 to minute six (remaining), the puck was in Anaheim’s end. The Ducks waited, standing still actually and watching while it launched off of sticks. One chance, when Trevor van Riemsdyck had it, was a pure open-side slapper from the left of the zone mid-slot. He put it wide. Just after that, a puck was launched off of Gibson’s shoulder. The shots at this moment were 25 Chicago, 24 Anaheim.

And then everything went to pieces as far as Anaheim was concerned. To cut to the end, they lost in OT 3-2, and the Hawks didn’t even score a goal until there was just 1:41 left in the game. At the time, the Ducks were a man short, Getzlaf having gone off for tripping. It was a play in front of the Anaheim net, where he hacked the back legs of Andrew Shaw (he of the “I accuse Kesler of diving” school from earlier in the game). Apparently Shaw has legs of glass, because he went butt-over-teakettle after the hack, and Getzlaf was called for two minutes. He left to get a cut fixed, but with Perry sitting in the box, the inevitable happened.

That puck went Keith to Hossa near the point for a one-timer slapshot. No big deal, right? As Getzlaf would later say, the team played a great 58 minutes. And that would have been fine but for what happened next. The Chicago team scored again, this time with less than a minute to go.

It was an important goal for two reasons: first, and obviously, it tied the game for Chicago. But second, the secondary assist went to Patrick Kane. This allowed him to keep his scoring streak alive and tie Phil Kessell and Eddie Olczyk for the longest, at 18 games, for a US-born player.

It also put him close to Bobby Hull’s Chicago franchise record of 21 games with at least a point.

Anyway, the other assist went to Seabrook, and it was 2-2 with second remaining. Seabrook would later assist Anisimov as he scored yet one more goal, making it 3-2 Chicago in OT. Bummer for the Ducks, who had done all they could for two periods and then let it slip away. They were sullen after the loss, while the Blackhawks players were all smiles and chatter.

Coach Boudreau described the late going of the game: “At the moment it’s depressing. For 58 minutes, I thought we were pretty solid whenever we had to be, but that team has a way of not quitting. They came in, they found a way, and the result is the result.” He said that it was discouraging to allow two late goals and then an overtime goal, “again.”

His summary was, “We’ve got to have composure. We’ve got to go to spots and manage the puck, and not just throw it to them. That’s what we ended up doing—panicking and throwing it to them. Gibson was outstanding up to that point.” He did say he wished his power play had been better, but that “the energy that we had was extremely high energy, and we played the right way until the end.”

The Blackhawks naturally were quite pleased with themselves. Duncan Keith summarized, “It’s not the way we’d like to draw it up, but we’ll take the win. They outworked us most of the game, and you know, we just found a way at the end and snuck out the two points. We need to give ourselves credit as well. I’m not taking anything away from our win. But for the most part, I thought they might have outworked us a little bit. Kind of a thrilling win with it being the way it was, 2-0. But at the same time, I think we could have started better, and parts throughout the game, we could have been better.”

And Kane added his bit. “It’s fun when you kind of stick with it the whole game. No one really panics, and you can get a couple of goals in the last two minutes to tie it up. It’s fun. To be successful in this league, you know you’re not going to have a perfect game every time out, especially against a good team, but when you can hold it to the last couple of minutes and keep pressing and never quit, get a couple by the goaltender in the last two minutes and win it in overtime, everyone’s pretty pumped up in here right now.”

The Ducks’ goalie stood in and took questions, but his answers amounted to “It doesn’t matter if you lose, really. You gotta make saves for the team, and obviously I didn’t do it.“ He said later, “I don’t think there’s really much to say right now. It sucks. You knew they were going to come eventually, they were going to get something, and they found a way to do it.”

Ryan Getzlaf got stitches over the eye after the game but graciously came out later and talked with the media. He was calm as he said, “I thought our guys played hard tonight. It’s a little bit tough to lose it after playing 58 minutes the way we did.” But he said that they would take satisfaction from a point and go on. “For 58 minutes we owned the play, and we killed off some penalties.” He also talked about the power play, so you know that that was Boudreau’s message, since Getzlaf essentially mirrored what the coach said to the media.

He said that he thought the call against him at the end was unnecessary but then discussed at length the fact that he will never embellish a play to get a call.

The stitches, by the way, were masterfully done, almost invisible. As if that’s any consolation.

Maybe even those who didn’t head to the mall on this day had a Black Friday after all, at least the Anaheim fans.

Notes

Buy my books as holiday presents and you’ll make people happy. Growing Up Hockey is the classic, but Facing Wayne Gretzky is the newest.

Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey. Mostly nonsense, but every once in a while, a gem comes out.

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