CHICAGO (AP) — Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau knew the answer without having to ask the question.
Any doubts he had about fatigue and his squad’s ability to bounce back after a disheartening loss in triple overtime less than 48 hours earlier disappeared even before the midday shoot-around.
“Nobody mentioned anything,” Boudreau said after the Ducks’ 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks on Thursday night, “because they all wanted to play.”
Good thing, too, because goaltender Frederik Andersen and the Anaheim back line were tested repeatedly while killing off five Chicago power plays to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals. Andersen made 27 saves, but nearly as important, the players in front of him combined to block 27 shots, compared to just nine blocks for the Blackhawks.
Chicago also had precious few good scoring chances to show for a combined 9:18 of power-play opportunities.
“Those guys want to get through the neutral zone and come with speed,” Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano said. “They want to pick you apart. I think guys had really good sticks in the neutral zone tonight. I thought guys were able to disrupt them, disrupt passes and that’s what you need to do.
“These guys are really skilled players,” he added, “then they may get frustrated. And I think we see a little frustration in the power play because they’re maybe not getting what they want.”
Defenseman Simon Despres’ first career playoff goal came on the Ducks’ only power play with less than a minute left in the second period and proved to be the winner. With teammate Corey Perry screening Corey Crawford, Despres let fly from a few feet inside the blue line and stole a glance at the Chicago goal even as he turned to scurry back on defense.
“I was surprised it went in actually, because I didn’t get it up. It just stayed on the ice,” Despres said. “I just wanted to get it on net with a quick release … but Corey is a machine in front of the net. He makes a lot of big goals.”
Anaheim’s physical style on both ends of the ice is paying clear dividends. Four of the seven goals Crawford has allowed in the finals came with players screening his view of the shooter. The Ducks may be causing even more of a disruption on the offensive end, though, outhitting the Blackhawks by a wide margin once again, 45-27, and blunting Chicago’s wide-open attack.
The Blackhawks had more shots 28-27, and more quality chances. But the slower going definitely suited the Ducks.
“I don’t know, was there less pace tonight?” chuckled Patrick Maroon, who scored the Ducks opener by deflecting Hampus Lindholm’s shot from the right face-off circle.
“I don’t know,” he added a moment later. “I don’t know, we’re just out there to play hockey. I don’t really look into that kind of stuff.”
But the Blackhawks acknowledged being frustrated by the slower pace.
“It was maybe a slower game than the first two, but in these playoff games, you don’t know what to expect,” said Patrick Kane, who scored Chicago’s only goal. He and his teammates were especially unhappy about their inability to create good chances with all that time on the power play.
“I don’t think our entries were very good,” Kane added. “We didn’t seem to get the puck back when we were battling for it. And we let them have some easy clears, too. That’s got to be way better. We’ll make some adjustments, figure it out and fix it.”
There isn’t much time left with Game 5 on tap Saturday night. After the Ducks made an adjustment to slow Chicago’s power play coming through the middle of the ice, it’s the Blackhawks turn to counter.
“When you have a tough time putting pucks on the net, you hear the same quotes from us,” Chicago’s Patrick Sharp concluded. “We need to start applying ourselves.
“At this point,” he added, “every game’s a must-win.”
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