Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf hit Brent Seabrook so hard Sunday that it was surprising air bags didn’t deploy.
Getzlaf had sped up after noticing the Blackhawks defenseman slip behind his team’s net to retrieve the puck. The impact of the check slammed Seabrook into the boards, then felled him like a Douglas fir.
He is one of the Hawks’ tough guys so he got up and skated away, though not happily. You don’t worry about the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Seabrook taking a hit from the 6-4, 218-pound Getzlaf. It’s the health and well-being of smaller, niftier players that should be causing the Hawks worry in the Western Conference final. The Ducks are huge, and they are democratic. Size, status, bank account – they don’t care. Everyone is a golf ball on a tee to them.
ESPN analyst Barry Melrose and his mullet said Tuesday morning that the Hawks needed to get “fiery’’ in Game 2 that night. But that’s not their game. Spirited? Sure. Physical in the way the Ducks are? Only if they have a collective death wish.
The Hawks were built for speed, for skating away from the kind of hits they took in Game 1. They will not make it through this best-of-seven series whole if they allow themselves to be turned into flattened advertising along the boards.
The Hawks should fear these heights: 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. That’s the size of Getzlaf, defenseman Simon Despres, forward Corey Perry and defenseman Clayton Stoner. The Ducks also have a handful of players who are 6-2.
The Blackhawks have Bryan Bickell, who is 6-4, 223. And they have Andrew Shaw, who makes up in bark what he lacks in height (he’s 5-11). He gets in the middle of scrums and absorbs the frustrated whacks, hits and punches of opponents, hoping to induce a penalty and take pressure off his teammates.
But that’s not enough to stop the Ducks from zeroing in on Hawks players. The only solution is to make them miss. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has made a career out of it. It’s what the Hawks need to do the rest of the series. And if Anaheim is hell-bent on knocking the hell out of them, it could work in their favor.
Ryan Kesler was all over Jonathan Toews in Game 1. There might be gold in there somewhere for the Hawks captain.
“Sometimes teams are over-physical and you can create that give-and-go kind of play and get the guy out of position,’’ Blackhawks forward and confirmed small guy Patrick Kane said. “That’s something we can look at, too — take advantage of situations where they are over-aggressive.’’
The Hawks need to play their up-tempo game. Defensive stops have to quickly turn into offensive rushes. Bickell can hit various Ducks, and Shaw can do his antagonizing, but the Hawks have to use what got them here, which is skill and skating.
Yes, they do have to be aware of marauding Ducks, perhaps the first time in history that “marauding” and “ducks’’ have been used together. The Hawks have to avoid hits, but mostly they have to worry about themselves.
“(Perry is) one of the toughest guys to get the puck off of in the league, and he’s got that physical, nasty element that you have to be aware of too,’’ Kane said. “You could say the same about Kesler and some of their other players. But if you start worrying about the way they are playing against you or what message they are trying to get across, it only works negatively on you.’’
The Hawks’ top defensemen normally play a lot of minutes, but with Michal Rozsival out the rest of the playoffs with a broken ankle and his replacement, David Rundblad, playing so ineffectively Sunday, it means there’s almost no chance that Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya will get more rest. And that means more exposure to the Ducks’ bruising style of hockey.
Asked whether the heavy workload would take a toll on Hawks defensemen, as Anaheim players suggested after Game 1, coach Joel Quenneville was his usual cagey self.
“Every game’s different,’’ he said. “Every shift’s different. We’ll see how the ice time is delegated by performance and by how things are going. We know they’re a physical team. That’s part of it. We want to make sure we don’t get distracted where we got to go to be successful.’’
It’s easy to get distracted when you know Getzlaf is bearing down on you. It’s easy to get destroyed when you don’t.