ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Chicago Blackhawks aren’t on the outside looking in when it comes to the Anaheim Ducks. It’s more like they’re in the same room with the Ducks and just looking up at them.
The Blackhawks trail the Western Conference-leading Ducks by three points heading into their tilt here tonight, and they’d love nothing more than to close the gap on the Pacific Division squad. Chicago got the best of this matchup in mid-January but some things have changed. At that time, the Ducks had won 18 of their last 19 games. Now, they’ve lost three of their last four. They haven’t struggled to score quite as much as their fellow California teams but the losses are there nonetheless.
Will the Blackhawks get edge closer to the Ducks tonight? Will we have to be forcefully brought back to Chicago now that we’re ensconced in the lovely sun and mid-60s temperatures of Orange County? While we ponder these and other questions, read the Five Things to watch for in tonight’s Blackhawks-Ducks game.
[MORE: How important has Blackhawks' versatility been?]
1. Hard knocks coming again. We wrote yesterday about the Blackhawks taking the physical brunt from opponents on this road trip. That will continue tonight. The Ducks are another big, bruising squad who will forcefully try to slow down the Blackhawks. Chicago has handled that well up to this point, and they come into this game fully expecting more.
2. Exploit the Ducks’ penalty kill. Anaheim’s kill is pretty solid – 14th overall in the NHL – but it’s been a bit more porous lately. The Ducks have allowed at least one power-play goal in four of their last five games. Get them to the penalty box, then get cracking on that advantage.
[MORE: Sharp surprises Blackhawks fans before Olympics]
3. Don’t forget about those last few minutes. The Blackhawks have succumbed to the Ducks a few times in recent years, and most of those losses have come in the waning minutes. The Ducks almost pulled it off again on Jan. 17 in Chicago – the Blackhawks were up 3-0 before Kyle Palmieri and Ryan Getzlaf scored within a minute to make it 3-2. So beware, those final regulation minutes; you know how the Ducks love to make your life miserable in them.
4. Get the Ducks off kilter early. Anaheim is not a come-from-behind team, especially if it’s trailing after two periods (2-10-1). But the bigger reason to jump on Anaheim early is that they’re fantastic at home this season (22-4-2). Don’t be stalling at the Duck Pond.
5. Our pick to click tonight? We’re going with Patrick Kane again. The Blackhawks wing played with a heavy heart on Monday, the day he found out his grandfather died. He played that game for his grandfather and excelled; we think he dedicates this one, and plays accordingly, too.