Patrick Kane

Versteeg ‘wants to play in the worst way’

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A healthy scratch since the first round, Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg has at least been impressing his coach in practice.

“He’s had a great week of practicing,” Joel Quenneville said today. “He’s not happy. He wants to play in the worst way. Puts himself as a candidate to get in the lineup. We’ve had some decisions along the way. Last game we could have inserted him. We’ll see. I like his approach. I told him we expect him in this series.”

Quenneville would not say if there would lineup changes tonight, as the Western Conference Final shifts back to Chicago after the Ducks and Blackhawks split the first two games in Anaheim.

Versteeg was replaced by Teuvo Teravainen in Game 1 of the Minnesota series, and he hasn’t gotten back into the lineup since.

The Chicago Sun-Times wonders if Versteeg could be in line to replace Bryan Bickell, who’s failed to score in 12 playoff games.

Of course, that would require taking a big body (223 pounds) out of the lineup, against a big, physical team in the Ducks. Versteeg is listed as the Blackhawks’ lightest player, at 176 pounds. Which is to say, swapping in Versteeg and playing him with Bickell’s current linemates, Patrick Kane and Brad Richards, may be seen as a risk versus a team like Anaheim.

“It’s never easy when you’re not in,” Versteeg told the Sun-Times. “You always want to be in and competing and helping the team out whatever way you can. But you know what, you’ve just got to come and be the best teammate you can be, regardless of whatever the situation is. Hopefully when you get your call, you’re ready to go.” 

Related: Versteeg misses Kane

In case you haven’t noticed, the NHL is a young man’s game

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Just for the sake of the discussion — and since everyone’s talking about Tyler Johnson today — here are all the players who have scored at least five goals in these playoffs:

Johnson (11), Corey Perry (7), Patrick Kane (7), Nikita Kucherov (6), Chris Kreider (6), Vladimir Tarasenko (6), Alex Killorn (6), Derek Stepan (5), Alex Ovechkin (5), Derick Brassard (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (5), Max Pacioretty (5), Matt Beleskey (5), and Colin Wilson (5).

That’s 14 players. Can you pick out the oldest?

The answer is Anaheim’s Perry, who turned 30 on Saturday. Only slightly younger than Perry, Ovechkin will turn 30 in September.

Otherwise, it’s all players who are comfortably in their 20s, their legs still full of burst, their bodies not yet worn down by the grind of taking hundreds of pucks hard to the net, and all the punishment that goes with scoring goals in today’s NHL.

This isn’t to say that once a goal-scorer turns 30 he should be put out to pasture, like the theory about running backs in the NFL. Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, and Martin St. Louis all had productive postseasons last year. This year is perhaps an extreme case.

But it does show the importance of youth, and how quickly a player — especially a forward — can go from getting drafted to making a significant impact.

True, patience is required when developing prospects. You don’t want to rush them. There’s nothing wrong with learning the game in the AHL. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of urgency in getting prospects ready for the NHL so they can enjoy as many productive seasons as possible, before their peak years (at a relatively low cap hit) are over.

Hence, all the talk surrounding 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. While it’s not like the Lightning should be hitting the panic button that he hasn’t yet gained the trust of his coach, it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s fallen a bit behind in his development.

In a related story, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan knows “the next three or four years is the window” in Washington. Because, where will Ovechkin’s game be after that? Where will Nicklas Backstrom’s? The Caps have an opportunity over the next few years to get production from both their veterans and their youth. That’s the sweet spot every GM aims for. And those sweet spots don’t last long.

Freddie’s ready: Ducks beat Blackhawks in Game 1

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Some consider Anaheim Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen a “question mark” as the team finally tries to make good on regular-season dominance. In Game 1 of the 2015 Western Conference Final, Andersen was instead the difference-maker.

Chicago carried the play for the first two periods on Sunday, generating a 25-15 shot advantage through the first 40 minutes of the contest.

Andersen was on top of the action, making 32 saves and only allowing a Brad Richards goal off a turnover all night.

He made some big saves, including this sensational stick stop on Patrick Kane:

Anaheim took a 2-1 lead into the final frame, and people made mention of how great the Ducks are at closing out games:

That certainly held true on Sunday (you can bump that playoff stat to 4-1 now), as the Ducks survived two straight penalty calls, generated a 12-8 shot edge and scored two tallies to end any threat of a Blackhawks comeback.

It’s getting tougher and tougher to doubt the Ducks as genuine contenders, as they now have a 1-0 series lead and a 9-1 record in this postseason.

They also proved that they can beat Chicago at the Duck Pond:

The Blackhawks have to be frustrated to see some dominant play go to waste, although the biggest headache might be their defensive imbalance. Michal Rozsival’s absence is being felt, as David Rundblad had a rough game and Kimmo Timonen barely played (5:15 TOI).

Still, just about every team sees some flaws in the salary cap era. It’s just one game, and the Blackhawks have been through just about everything over the last several years.

Video: Andersen makes an incredible stick save

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Blackhawks’ sniper Patrick Kane had the game’s first quality scoring chance early in the first period.

The 26-year-old, who has seven goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games, capitalized on a Ryan Getzlaf turnover, but Frederik Andersen bailed his captain out with an incredible stick save.

Have a look:

Hampus Lindholm has since given the Ducks a 1-0 lead with his second goal of the playoffs.

Kesler, Toews set to renew rivalry

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Ryan Kesler and Jonathan Toews will renew their rivalry when the Western Conference Final gets going this afternoon.

The pair got acquainted with one another as the Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks met in the playoffs three straight years.

Now a member of the Anaheim Ducks, Kesler figures the animosity will pick up right where it left off.

“If I play against him in this series, I’m sure we won’t hug each other on the dot — let’s just say that,” Kesler said per the Chicago Sun-Times.

In 19 games over the three playoff series between the Hawks and Canucks, Toews scored seven goals and 20 points while Kesler had two goals and 11 points.

“[Kesler] is definitely a player you respect and challenge yourself against,” Toews said. “Most of all he plays a smart, gritty game defensively. He tries to take other top players off their game. I think our guys know he’s one of those guys we have to be concerned with — try to not let him have an easy time with us and let him play his game too easily.”

Patrick Kane has got to know Kesler as the pair were teammates on two U.S. Olympic teams and sees similarities between the two centers.

“He kind of reminds me of Jonny a little bit as a player,” said Kane. “He’s kind of that two-way centerman, easy to play with; is always looking to get the puck in your hands, too.”

Kesler has four goals and five assists in nine playoff games this season while Toews has four goals and seven assists in 10 games.

“Toews is a good player,” Kesler said. “We match up against each other. When you play the same guy for six, seven games in a row, obviously there’s going to be a rivalry there.”

Related: Ducks have embraced hard practices as long layoff nears end