The Blackhawks would love to erase the final five minutes in each game they’ve played against the Anaheim Ducks this season.
Twice, the Blackhawks had a late lead on the Ducks, who sit second to them in the Western Conference. Twice, the Ducks came back to win, first in a shootout here and then in regulation in Anaheim. So the task tomorrow night, when the Ducks are here again, is simple: no last-minute lapses.
It’s the tussle between the West’s No. 1 and 2 again on Friday, when the Blackhawks host the Ducks at the United Center. Ray Emery gets the start against his former team, while the Blackhawks will again be sans Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. But no matter who’s in or out, it promises to be another close game.
The Blackhawks just want to end up on the positive side of that this time.
“We had two tough losses against them and nothing to show for it. Well, one point, but that’s not very good when you look at the position we were in throughout the games,” coach Joel Quenneville said following today’s practice. “Let’s try to play right through the end.”
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Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said “they’re a good team pretty much all over the ice, and good on special teams. We have to focus on our team game and, as usual, get the puck deep. And when we get the opportunities, put the puck in the net.”
The Blackhawks and Ducks have had close games because they have similar games. Anaheim’s the more physical of the two, but both have plenty of skill, solid special teams and two goaltenders that are basically interchangeable.
“They’re deep, just like we are. All the lines get it done for them, they keep it simple and play a similar game to us,” said Brandon Bollig, whose nullified goal against the Ducks last week would’ve given the Blackhawks a 3-1 lead at the time. “They have top players mixed with some grit and leadership, and that’s exactly what we have. We match up well and hopefully tomorrow we get the points.”
The Blackhawks have a nearly spotless record when entering the third period with a lead; all they have is one regulation and one shootout loss. The Ducks were the culprits in both of them. Patrick Kane said the Blackhawks have to get back to buckling down late.
“Obviously we have to play smarter, and not just against them but against anyone. We have to tighten up a bit,” Kane said. “It’s something we’ve been good at all year, the one-goal games. (Last time) was one game where we lost focus or something set in that wasn’t right. They took advantage of it. We’ll try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
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The Ducks, meanwhile, will likely be an angry bunch tomorrow night. After beating the Blackhawks last Wednesday, Chicago’s last game before a four-day break, the Ducks went into a tailspin. They lost their next four games, including 4-0 to the San Jose Sharks last night. They gained no ground on the Blackhawks in the West.
So as physical and snarly as the Ducks usually are, they’ll probably be more so now.
“I bet it’ll be a tough one. It always is with them, especially with them losing four in a row and battling for the top of the conference,” said defenseman Sheldon Brookbank. “We expect them to be ready and better than what they’ve done in the last four games. We know what they’re about, so we have to raise our game a bit.”