ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks headed into the Western Conference finals with a wealth of playoff experience and ample rest.
None of it made much difference when they struggled to find a way past Frederik Andersen and the surging Anaheim Ducks.
Hampus Lindholm, Nate Thompson and Jakob Silfverberg each had a goal and an assist, and the Ducks beat the Blackhawks 4-1 in the opener on Sunday.
Brad Richards scored late in the second period and Corey Crawford stopped 23 shots for Chicago, which hadn’t lost since April 23. The Blackhawks’ struggles in their first game in 10 days were encapsulated when Andersen made a jaw-dropping stick save against Patrick Kane, deflecting the Chicago star’s shot over an achingly open net.
The Blackhawks capitalized on just one scoring chance while making just enough mistakes to fall behind and stay there. Chicago didn’t play poorly, but still got reminded just how much work will be necessary to hold off the hungry Ducks and to get back to the Stanley Cup finals for the third time in six years.
“Sometimes you play these first games, and it is kind of a feeling-out process where you don’t really know what to expect,” Kane said. “I don’t want to say we came in and wanted to do that, but I think we’ll have a better effort come next game.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night in Anaheim.
Andersen, who made 32 saves, had to be stellar under a heavy barrage of high-quality shots from the Blackhawks, who had won five straight postseason games heading into their third straight conference finals.
Kane scored seven goals in the first two rounds, but could only shake his head on the bench after Andersen’s phenomenal stick save in the first period.
“He’s a battler, and you saw that on numerous saves he had tonight where it seemed like we had a good chance to score and he gets a leg or a stick on it,” Kane said. “We knew that was the scouting report on him. Just got to bear down a little bit more on those opportunities.”
Chicago’s only injury problem also was magnified: With Michal Rozsival out for the season with a broken ankle, defenseman David Rundblad made his playoff debut — and he was on the ice for the Ducks’ first two goals.
“We want to make sure we’re making safe plays, quick plays, easy exits,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “A couple of those, maybe (Rundblad) could do differently. But you know, not an easy start. First playoff game. Hadn’t played for an extensive period.”
Kyle Palmieri also scored as the Ducks opened their first conference finals in eight years by improving to 9-1 in these Stanley Cup playoffs. Although the Blackhawks clearly are a major step up in competition, the Ducks’ confidence is still growing.
“I think everyone in the locker room knows we can beat this team,” said Andersen, who’s in his second NHL season. “It’s a good feeling that we showed it in Game 1. They’re going to come harder. We’ll have to play better in Game 2.”
Both teams’ offensive stars were shut down in the franchises’ first postseason meeting, but the Ducks’ supporting cast took over the scoring, capped by Silfverberg’s empty-net goal with 1:18 left.
These powerhouse teams both entered the series with prolonged momentum and plenty of rest: The Blackhawks never trailed in their second-round series sweep of Minnesota while reaching their third straight conference finals, while Anaheim steamrolled through the Pacific Division bracket with just one overtime defeat.
The clubs matched strengths from the opening minutes, with Ducks center Ryan Kesler chasing Chicago captain Jonathan Toews in a continuation of their long-running rivalry.
After Lindholm put Anaheim ahead in the first period, Palmieri made it 2-0 early in the second when he converted a pass from Thompson and slid through the slot on his back in celebration. Rundblad and Johnny Oduya both failed to clear the puck moments earlier.
“We didn’t play so good in the first, but I thought the rest of the game, we were dominant,” Kesler said. “Took it to them.”
Richards finally broke through in the final minute of the second, forcing a turnover by Francois Beauchemin and getting his second postseason goal.
NOTES: Rookie Jiri Sekac made his playoff debut for the Ducks, skating on their fourth line. The speedy, skillful Czech wing replaced Tim Jackman to match up with the Blackhawks’ strengths. … The Ducks have outscored their opponents 18-3 in the third period during this postseason. … Brent Seabrook played in his 100th postseason game. Chicago had eight players on the ice with at least 100 games of playoff experience, while Anaheim has none.
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