ANAHEIM, Calif. —The Blackhawks have the marquee value and the biggest stars and were the trendy pick heading into the Western Conference final, based on their wealth of talent and experience. But the Anaheim Ducks won the Western Conference for a reason.
So they weren’t exactly popping champagne after winning Game 1 on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s one game and we’ve got three more to go,” Ryan Kesler said. “Obviously, we thought we could beat this team before the series, so this game wasn’t a, ‘Yeah! We can beat these guys!’ [kind of moment]. Game 2 is huge. I’m sure they’re over there saying they want a split and to get back home. It’s our job not to allow that.”
The Ducks were very businesslike in their win and in their postgame comments. Particularly Frederik Andersen, who shrugged off his tremendous 32-save performance like it was nothing.
“I think everyone in the locker room knows we can beat this team,” Andersen said. “It’s a good feeling that we showed it in Game 1.”
Andersen was the biggest reason for the win, making massive saves on Patrick Kane in the first period, Marcus Kruger in the second period, and Brandon Saad in the third period, among others. The 25-year-old Danish netminder was supposedly a question mark coming into the series, but he outplayed Corey Crawford on Sunday and is now 9-1 in the postseason with a .930 save percentage and a 1.86 goals-against average.
“There’s no question mark with us,” Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano said. “There’s always going to be questions about guys that are young and inexperienced, but he’s got a great demeanor, and he’s really focused for a guy that tho sis really his first taste of some really big games. He’s as calm as he could be.”
Andersen had given up seven goals in a pair of losses to the Hawks this season, the only two times the Hawks had seen him. But he didn’t surprise the Hawks in Game 1. The consensus in the Hawks room was that they need to do a better job of overcoming the Ducks’ boxing-out ability in the crease to create more traffic in front of Andersen.
“We’ve been watching the playoffs, so we know what kind of goaltender he is and what he’s capable of,” Hawks winger Brandon Saad said. “He’s a great goaltender, and we’re going to have to find a way to get more goals on him.”
The Ducks are well aware of the fact the Hawks are leaning heavily on their top four defensemen, and playing David Rundblad and Kimmo Timonen sparingly, particularly in the third period. That puts extra importance on Anaheim’s physical play.
“When you get guys playing a ton of minutes, it’s going to wear them down,” Kesler said. “We’ve got to invest in them physically.”
As expected, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau pitted Kesler’s line against Jonathan Toews’ line. Toews, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa combined for eight shots on goal and 18 shot attempts, but were held off the scoresheet. Toews and Saad were each a minus-2.
“You’ve got to match their intensity and limit their space,” Kesler said. “[Toews] is a great player, hard to check. It wasn’t just my matchup, it was our line.”