MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. -- Here we are, boys and girls, the game at least two fan factions have been waiting for: the top team in the Western Conference versus the very-close-to-top-team in the Western Conference.
Hey, there isn’t much that separates the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. Technically, it’s five points. Other than that, these two squads are pretty evenly matched in talent, work ethic and success level. They’ve both put on shows through the first half of this season, and it’s not hard to see why they’re the top two teams in the west.
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“They’re a good team. As well as we’ve been playing they’ve been right there, hiding in the shadows, having a great season, too,” Patrick Kane said following the Blackhawks’ 5-2 victory over Colorado Monday. “If we weren't having the year we’re having, there’d be focus and attention on them. They’re a big team, and it’ll be a great test for us.”
Coach Joel Quenneville agreed.
“They’re doing pretty well, and they’re probably excited with their news,” he said, referring to Corey Perry signing a Ryan Getzlaf-like contract Monday night. “It should be a great contest. It’ll be a very important two points. They’ve got a lot of things going right for them. They have a lot of different guys who can contribute. We have a little momentum ourselves. It should be a great game.”
And the Ducks aren’t going to settle for second fiddle.
“I want everything,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau told the L.A. Times recently. “I never once thought Chicago was out of range. Everybody else did. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve completed half our season. You don’t win anything in half a season. Consistency and staying healthy are the keys.”
So, how do the two teams stack up? Sounds like a good excuse to do a tale of the tape. Hey, we warned you:
Joel Quenneville has known who to put on what line, and he’s kept them there for the most part. That’s meant good and lasting chemistry and a lot of success. He’s also given several players lasting special-teams roles (Andrew Shaw on the power play, Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger on the penalty kill), which has instilled confidence. Boudreau has known which buttons to push in Anaheim, too. Much like the Blackhawks, he’s found third-line gold; for him, it’s been Daniel Winnik, Saku Koivu and Andrew Cogliano. Francois Beauchemin and Sheldon Souray have proven a great defensive tandem. Boudreau will switch things up if he feels the need -- outside of that third line -- but it’s worked for the Ducks. EDGE: Even
The Blackhawks set a new NHL record this season for consecutive unbeaten streak to start a season, going 24. They broke the mark set by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks, who eventually won the Stanley Cup. This year’s Ducks set no such mark, but their consistency cannot be ignored. They’ve gone 8-0-3 since their last regulation loss on Feb. 25. They’ve also won a franchise-record 12 in a row at home. That’s why the Blackhawks, despite the lead they have on so many others in the West, can’t shake the Ducks. EDGE: Even
NO (INSERT PLAYER’S NAME HERE), NO PROBLEM
Chicago could be without Marian Hossa Wednesday after being without him most of Monday. Patrick Sharp’s been out the last five games. Dave Bolland missed four games earlier this season. Doesn’t matter. The Blackhawks, outside of those two losses, just make a few adjustments, have Patrick Kane make dazzling moves and play 30 minutes a game (kidding, sort of) and keep going. The Ducks have been minus Perry, who was suspended for a hit on and will be out Wednesday against the Blackhawks. Nick Bonino is currently on injured reserve. But it hasn’t hurt the Ducks in their last three games. Good teams just find answers from others. EDGE: Even
Jonathan Toews will be among the finalists of some award this season, probably the Selke. He’s having another great year, tallying his 14th goal of the season Monday and is a plus-18. Getzlaf, who just signed an eight-year, $66-million contract, has returned to form this season. Getzlaf, who had 57 points in 82 games last season, already had 33 in his first 28 this campaign. He’s also a plus-13. We’re going to be a bit biased here, but Toews has become one of the league’s quintessential captains. EDGE: Blackhawks
The Blackhawks are better in this department; they couldn’t have gotten much worse last season. They’re currently 13th in the league on the man advantage, yet you still have to wonder, with this talent, how they’re not higher. The Ducks, meanwhile, have been a power-play machine, scoring 24.7 percent of the time (they’re scoring a league-best 30.8 percent of the time on it at home) they’re on the job. The Blackhawks would best be served staying out of the box Wednesday. EDGE: Ducks
For a while it seemed nobody could score on the Blackhawks’ kill. They’ve allowed a few more in recent games, but it’s still pretty good (and, again, much better than last year). The Blackhawks’ kill is 10th in the NHL, nixing 83.2 percent of the power plays they face. The Ducks struggled early on here, hence their 24th ranking (78.6 percent). But they have been better with theirs as of late, killing 26 of 30 chances in their last 10 games. EDGE: Blackhawks
Both teams have to love their net “problem”: two goalies, each who has No. 1-starter numbers. Corey Crawford, who’s likely to start Wednesday, has quieted critics with his 13-2-3 record and 1.79 goals-against average (2nd in the NHL). Ray Emery has been stellar, too, improving to 11-0-0 (2.26 GAA) in the Blackhawks’ victory versus Colorado Monday. The Ducks have a two-pronged goaltending attack of their own. Viktor Fasth, who returned from injury to win Monday, is 11-1-1 with a 2.00 GAA. Former No. 1 Jonas Hiller has been just as reliable, sporting a 10-2-3 mark. EDGE: Even
Well, folks that’s our summation. Yes, the Blackhawks and Ducks break even in a lot of categories. Check the standings: they’re pretty close to even there, too.