ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Ryan Getzlaf and Jonathan Toews agree that the pain of a Game 7 defeat in the Stanley Cup playoffs doesn’t really go away.
Instead, good players use that failure to get better while they wait for another chance to take hockey’s ultimate test.
One year after the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks both exited the playoffs with a loss in a seventh game, they’re facing off in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on Saturday night at Honda Center.
After two weeks of brilliant, bruising hockey, Toews and Getzlaf don’t plan to say much in the dressing rooms before the Blackhawks and Ducks meet for the conference title and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
Both captains believe their clubs need no extra motivation to conclude this remarkable series with a big finish.
“We’ve been through the experiences now,” Getzlaf said Friday after a spirited Ducks practice. “We have to use them the way we need to. That’s the biggest thing. I’ve always believed that you learn a lot from losing.”
Both teams have lost three times apiece in these conference finals, alternating victories in a tense, well-played series. The Ducks have just one regulation loss in the entire postseason, but it was in Game 6, a 5-2 defeat that might have turned the series’ momentum in the Blackhawks’ favor heading back to Orange County.
“You try to will your way to the win,” Toews said. “And given that passion we have in our team, we’re feeling pretty good about our chances.”
Both teams’ recent history contains motivation and warnings when they face off to conclude a series already featuring six overtime periods and four one-goal games.
The Ducks’ last two postseasons ended with a Game 7 loss at home, and they blew a 3-2 series lead both times. Anaheim is a three-time Pacific Division champion and one of the NHL’s top teams ever since coach Bruce Boudreau took over in late 2011, but hasn’t broken through into trophy territory.
“It’s happened too often the last couple years,” Ducks forward Corey Perry said. “But you win (Saturday) night, and people start talking about something different. We’re not focused on the past. We’re focused on (Saturday) night, starting something different. It’s one game to go play for the Stanley Cup. It doesn’t get any more exciting than that.”
The Ducks also point out that those losing teams didn’t have center Ryan Kesler, whose defensive tenacity and leadership have bolstered Anaheim in tough games all season long. Kesler is expected to shadow Toews for the seventh straight game.
“I don’t think it’s about X’s and O’s anymore,” Kesler said. “I think it’s about who wants it more and who is ready to out-compete the guy across from him. Whoever that is, is going to win the game.”
Despite their two Stanley Cup titles in the previous five seasons, the Blackhawks can’t exactly stand on a stellar Game 7 record, either. The current Chicago core has lost in two of its three trips to a Game 7, beating only Detroit in a second-round series in 2013 — the Blackhawks’ only Game 7 victory since 1995.
And Chicago’s experience in last season’s conference finals still stings. The Hawks lost Game 7 at home to the Los Angeles Kings on Alec Martinez’s overtime deflection goal — a reminder of the dumb luck that conspires with years of preparation and hard work to decide these teams’ fates.
“We’re pretty far past that now,” Chicago goalie Corey Crawford said, before quickly adding: “We have it in the back of our mind a little bit. It was tough for us to take.”
If the Blackhawks win the series, it will be a remarkable testament to their stars — because coach Joel Quenneville is betting everything on them. Chicago has played the conference finals with basically four defensemen, and its two best offensive players are ganging up again.
Quenneville has put Toews and Patrick Kane on a line together with increasing frequency in the last two games. He did it again during Chicago’s practice Friday, suggesting the superstars will team up in Game 7.
Chicago also has survived against the deep Ducks while Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya play almost every minute on the blue line. Kimmo Timonen, David Rundblad and Kyle Cumiskey have been given barely more than 10 minutes per game.
Keith has logged a jaw-dropping 202 minutes and 57 seconds in a series that might stand as one of the decorated defenseman’s greatest achievements, but he won’t remember it fondly unless the Blackhawks get one more series in June.
“I think some of that feeling, even though it was a year ago, you can still remember,” Keith said. “We don’t want to have that feeling come this way. We want to make sure we do our best to try to get through this time.”
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