With everything on the line in Game 7 of the Western Conference final, what the contest boiled down to was Chicago’s stars coming to life while Anaheim’s were left searching for answers. And with their season on the line, it didn’t take long for the Blackhawks’ elite players to heat up, either.
Early and often, it was apparent that each of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith had an extra jump in their step. Within three minutes of the opening faceoff, Toews had buried a rebound to put the Blackhawks ahead. Before the first frame was over, he added another goal on the power play. And with Chicago pressing for a three-goal lead in the second period, it was Kane who made a terrific pass to Brandon Saad to put the Blackhawks ahead of the Ducks 3-0.
Before the game was half over, the trio of Toews, Kane and Keith had registered five points between them while the Ducks’ group of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler were held off the score sheet and left fighting to keep their team in the contest.
Perry would eventually bury a goal, Anaheim’s second of the game, early in the third, but it came too late. When the final horn sounded, it was the Blackhawks skating away with a 5-3 Game 7 victory.
It wasn’t just that the stars were rolling for the Blackhawks, however. Bit players stepped up to help make the difference. Marcus Kruger’s line, with Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins creating havoc, helped shut down Anaheim’s top unit. And Shaw, the scrappy winger who gets top power play minutes, factored in on Toews’ early tally with the extra man and Brent Seabrook’s third period insurance-tally with his netfront presence blocking the view of Anaheim goaltender Frederik Andersen.
For the Ducks, the loss marks the third consecutive campaign Anaheim’s season ends in a Game 7 on home ice. And, after Game 7 losses in 2012-13 to Detroit and 2013-14 to Los Angeles, the team as a whole has to be wondering what must be done to get over the hump and through Game 7 with a win.
Uncharacteristically, both Getzlaf and Perry, one of the league’s most outstanding duos, were held to just two points in the final two games of the series. The line-shuffling and line-matching by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville rendered the effectiveness of Anaheim’s two stars almost entirely obsolete. Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, in trying to get the matchups he wanted for his stars, wasn’t able to get either Getzlaf or Perry going in either of the Ducks’ opportunities to eliminate the Blackhawks.
Even with the unfavorable outcome, and as hard as it may be to believe at the moment, the Ducks can build off of this loss and learn. Andersen’s first full playoff run was a successful one, young players such as Jakob Silfverberg and defenseman Cam Fowler continued to show improvement and, even if they didn’t come through when it mattered most, Getzlaf and Perry had the most productive post-seasons of their careers. At some point, it’s going to translate into playoff success. When it does, it will be the defeats that laid the foundation for the victories.
As for Chicago, they now move on to their third Stanley Cup final in the past six seasons and attempt to win their third Stanley Cup over that span. In doing so, the conversation opens up again as to whether or not this club deserves to be called a dynasty, something that will be debated over and over again.
Dynasty or not, this Blackhawks team has certainly earned the right to be called one of the best in the salary cap era, if they’re not already on top of the heap. Even with the upcoming salary cap crunch Chicago faces, it’s hard to argue the contracts that Toews and Kane are about to cash in on considering they’ve now helped deliver the Windy City three Western Conference championships and could be bringing back another Cup. With two Stanley Cups already, Toews and Kane have outdone what the Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame duo of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were able to accomplish in a six-team NHL.
Against the Ducks, Chicago’s stars were their standout players, and the series showed the incredible growth of players such as Saad and Teuvo Teravainen. It showed that if he wasn’t considered one already, Niklas Hjlamarsson can be heralded as one of the top shutdown blueliners in the league. And, while Corey Crawford may not get the credit, it’s yet another feather in the cap for the goaltender.
Next up comes the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup final. If this Blackhawks group plays the way it did over the past two games, there could be another parade in downtown Chicago.