ANAHEIM, Calif. —Like he’s done to so many other goaltenders over the years, Patrick Kane had Frederik Andersen dead to rights — patiently swinging the puck out wide and pulling the Anaheim Ducks goaltender way out of position, where he fell on one knee and lunged desperately to his right with a wide-open net behind him.
Only, somehow, Andersen got the paddle of his stick on the puck just as he face-planted into the ice, deflecting Kane’s sure-fire goal high above the net.
“I thought I did everything right on the play,” Kane lamented.
That sequence early in the first period summed up Game 1 rather nicely, as the Blackhawks controlled play, peppered Andersen with shots, and still came up empty in a 4-1 loss. Much of the credit goes to Andersen, who wasn’t even a lock to be the Ducks’ starting goalie entering the playoffs, but who made 32 saves to improve to 9-1 in the postseason.
It’s the first time this spring that the Hawks have trailed in a series, but the veteran team has been here before, and knows that if they keep playing like they did for most of Game 1, they should be in good shape over the long haul. Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Honda Center.
“We’ve been back in a series before,” said Brandon Saad, who was around the net all game and was robbed by Andersen on a third-period power play. “We can’t panic out there. It’s a long series. It’s seven games. We’ve just got to take the positives and move on. Tomorrow’s another day.”
And there were positives to take. The Hawks outshot the Ducks (16-7 in a dynamite first period), out-attempted them, out-chanced them and out-raced them for much of the game, particularly the first two periods. They kept Anaheim’s playoff-leading power play in check by taking just one penalty. And they withstood the bone-rattling physical play of the Ducks and the post-whistle skirmishes without doing anything foolish in retaliation.
The game plan was fine. The execution left a little to be desired, however.
“It’s always a little frustrating when you don’t win,” Duncan Keith said. “We did a lot of good things, but at the same time, it wasn’t good enough. Their goalie made some big saves, but I think there’s a lot of areas where we can be better.”
Indeed, there were plenty of negatives, too. David Rundblad, making his playoff debut in place of the injured Michal Rozsival, played a role in the first two Ducks goals —he was beaten at the blue line and then again in the blue paint on Hampus Lindholm’s goal in the first period (three minutes after Kane’s great chance), and his weak pass in his own zone led to Kyle Palmieri’s goal early in the second period, which made it 2-0. As expected, Joel Quenneville leaned heavily on his top four defensemen, playing Kimmo Timonen just 73 seconds in the third period.
The Hawks’ power play also was a major negative, coming up short on all three tries, including back-to-back chances early in the third period after Brad Richards’ steal-and-score in the final minute of the second period had cut the deficit to 2-1 and given the Hawks life. Nate Thompson scored the backbreaker five minutes later, and Jakob Silfverberg tacked on an empty-netter to seal it, as the Ducks’ depth — supposedly their biggest weakness in comparison with the Hawks — made the difference.
“They played a patient game,” Saad said. “I thought out of the gate, we played a pretty good start and felt good about ourselves. Throughout the second and third periods, it just got progressively worse, and they took advantage.”
It’s just one game. The Hawks know that better than anybody, having rallied from 2-0 down against St. Louis last year, 3-1 down against Detroit two years ago, and 3-0 down to force a Game 7 against Vancouver in 2011. All the Ducks did was hold serve.
But they also served notice: The preliminaries are over. It’s a major step up in class now in the conference final — for both teams.
“We expected them to be a good team,” Kane said. “I don’t think we came in here and thought it was going to be easy. … It’s going to be a fight for us. We have to realize that, and realize this is the best team we’ve faced yet.