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.
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.
The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks will meet in the postseason for the first time when puck drops on Game 1 of the Western Conference Final this afternoon.
The Blackhawks are in their fifth conference finals in seven seasons and are playing the Western Conference Final in Southern California for the third straight year. Chicago split the previous two conference finals with the L.A. Kings – the winner went on to win the Stanley Cup.
The Ducks have not been to the conference finals since winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 2007.
Puck drop this afternoon is at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch the game on NBC and also by following NBC’s Live Stream via the link below:
CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE
Some relevant linkage for tonight’s affair:
Kesler, Toews set to renew rivalry
Ducks have embraced hard practices as long layoff nears end
Crawford ‘feeling pretty good’ after slow start to playoffs
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
The Anaheim Ducks are widely seen as the underdogs going into the Western Conference Final, but if they are to top Chicago, perhaps it won’t be on the strength of their five-on-five play. Maybe it will come by dominating with the man advantage instead.
That’s been a big part of Anaheim’s early success as its converted on 31% of its power plays so far in the playoffs. That’s in stark contrast to the Ducks’ 15.7 power-play percentage in the regular season, but given that they feature Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, their recent success may be more than just a product of a small sample size. That seems to be Chicago’s view.
“They have a couple of really skilled individuals on that team and are really good at those short passes in front of the net, close to the net, and finding good passing lanes,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson told CSN Chicago. “It’s going to be a tough challenge but I think we came up with a couple of big kills against Minnesota. The overall total wasn’t what we wanted, but that’s definitely one area we can improve on. And we have to improve on it if we’re going to move forward to the next round.”
The other part of the equation is Chicago’s penalty kill, which as Hjalmarsson touched on, has left something to be desired overall. The Blackhawks have successfully killed just 72.7% of their penalties in the playoffs, which makes this matchup look all the more troubling for Chicago.
It’s definitely an area of their game that the Blackhawks will be tested on in this series, but coach Joel Quenneville has an obvious solution to minimize the potential impact: “Stay out of the box.”
We’ll see how successful Chicago is in that regard.