After a triple-overtime Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Ducks & Blackhawks, some predicted the teams might be tired. But the Ducks – and especially goalie Frederik Andersen – showed no symptoms of fatigue in holding the Hawks to a single goal Thursday in a 2-1 Game 3 win for Anaheim.
The Ducks and Blackhawks played nearly two full hockey games Tuesday in “Game” 2 of their Eastern Conference Final, and many expected there might be a physical letdown when they squared off again Thursday in Chicago. But after losing home ice advantage in that triple-overtime 3-2 loss to the Hawks, Anaheim got it right back by locking down the opposition’s offense in a 2-1 Game 3 victory that marked Chicago’s first home defeat of the 2015 post-season.
The Blackhawks weren’t awful – they were the stronger possession team and outshot Anaheim 28-27 on the night – but other than one-man gang/star winger Patrick Kane (who scored their only goal in Game 3), they couldn’t solve Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen. The 25-year-old posted a .964 save percentage Thursday and improved his playoff goals-against average in 12 games this year to a sparkling 1.75 and his SP to .935, and is quietly making a very good case as a candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the post-season’s most valuable player.
Andersen’s resolve in net meant the Ducks’ offense didn’t have to get much past Chicago netminder Corey Crawford to win the game, and other than Patrick Maroon’s goal that opened the scoring at 12:55 of the first period and Simon Despres’ game-winner and first career playoff goal with 55 seconds left in the second frame, they didn’t. But they did block more shots than the Hawks by a 3:1 ratio (a total of 27 to Chicago’s 9) and their special teams were sharp: although they were undisciplined, their penalty kill successfully defended against all five Blackhawks power plays, and they capitalized on their only man advantage of Game 3 when Maroon scored.
In other words, it wasn’t perfect, but after the Ducks believed they deserved to win that three-overtime game, they probably believe they had a little good fortune coming.
The Blackhawks did manage to shut down Ducks sniper Corey Perry, but fellow star Ryan Getzlaf had a pair of assists to give him the lead among all NHLers in that category, with 14. On the other hand, Chicago needed someone other than Kane to contribute on the scoresheet, but captain Jonathan Toews didn’t score for the fifth straight playoff game and managed just two shots on Andersen Thursday, winger Patrick Sharp didn’t score for the fifth consecutive playoff game and amassed only three shots; and Brandon Saad was held without a point for the sixth straight game. Regular readers of this space know what often happens when teams rely on one or two players to get them goals: they eventually run into a team that has more scoring depth, and they are eliminated by that team.
This isn’t to give you the impression the Blackhawks are out of this. Most observers predicted the Western Final would go at least six games and there’s no indication a team with Chicago’s pedigree will white flag their way into an early off-season. However, if the Hawks aren’t able to score more than five goals in their next three games – as they did in the first three against Andersen – it’s less than likely Crawford can completely turn aside Perry and Getzlaf and Matt Beleskey and Jakob Silfverberg and Ryan Kesler and Hampus Lindholm and…well, you get the idea. The Ducks may not be the more experienced playoff team of the two, but this league seems to be a younger player’s league each and every season, and maybe the vigor of younger legs is what’s giving Anaheim a slight edge to this point in the series.
Game 4 is scheduled for Saturday night in Chicago – and yes, we’re in must-win territory for the Hawks now. Considering the Ducks have lost just one home game in the 2015 post-season, the odds of defeating Anaheim at Honda Center two games in a row are not in the Blackhawks’ favor.
But for the moment, at least, and with due apologies to the Matrix movie series, it’s about dealing with Mr. Andersen. Chicago’s forward depth is one of their biggest strengths and they need it to stay that way to make it to the Stanley Cup Final.