The Ducks beat the Blackhawks 2-1 on Thursday night to take a 2-1 series lead, and the only thing it did was reinforce the idea that this matchup is more slog than dance.
Three games into the Western Conference final, a seven-game series seems like a given, but only because an eight-game series isn’t possible.
“It’s looking that way,’’ Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “We’ve got to come out and do our part on Saturday – is that the next game, Saturday? I don’t even know what day it is today.’’
That’s what happens when the previous game was a three-overtime affair and the longest in team history. Days run together. Thoughts trail off. Quadriceps decline to cooperate.
With that in mind, Hawks coach Joel Quenneville made the talented Teuvo Teravainen a healthy scratch and inserted Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom into the lineup. Bad idea, with the accompanying bad result.
“We just wanted to get some fresh legs in there,’’ Quenneville said.
Teravainen seems to get better with every game he plays, and if at 20, he’s fatigued after a game that lasts 116 minutes, he and the Hawks are in big trouble.
Quenneville is a mad scientist when it comes to line changes and lineup choices. His decision to sit Teravainen was the hockey equivalent of cold fusion. Many of his moves turn out well. This one didn’t.
Hawks players didn’t seem bothered by the lineup switch.
“We’re used to it,’’ forward Patrick Sharp said. “We trust him behind the bench to mix and match players however he feels. We’ve got a deep team. We’ve got a number of guys that can step in and play.’’
Patrick Kane can play. He scored on a no-look backhander with 57 seconds left in the first period, tying the game 1-1 and ending his two-game scoring “slump.’’ The last guy anybody should be worried about is Kane, who nonetheless was the subject of headlines heading into Game 3. Worry about somebody else. That’s my public-service message for the day.
The Hawks needed that goal badly. They had just come up empty on a four-minute power play, which came about because of a Jakob Silfverberg high stick that drew blood on Jonathan Toews. They ended up with one shot on net. There are carp prettier than that power play. They were awful all night with a man advantage.
The Ducks took a 2-1 lead on Simon Despres’ slap shot with 55 seconds left in the second period, a goal that turned out to be the game-winner. With Kane’s goal coming late in the first, it’s fair to ask whether concentration was waning at the end of periods due to fatigue from the previous game.
It didn’t help the Hawks near the end of the third. Quenneville pulled goalie Corey Crawford in the waning minutes, but the Ducks and goalie Frederic Andersen withstood a furious, last-ditch assault.
That’s how this series rolls. There is very little that separates the two teams. Excellent goalies. Big-time goal scorers. Annoying pests.
The Hawks already knew Anaheim was tough. They know it even more now. The Ducks were 25-12-4 away from home in the regular season, so no one should be surprised by what happened Thursday at the United Center.
This is the Hawks’ fifth conference final in seven years. They have won two Stanley Cups in the past five years. But the Ducks don’t seem to care about any of that. They don’t seem to be willing to go away. It will be up to the Hawks to make them.
Game 4 is indeed Saturday at the UC. And if this series holds to form – form being haymakers answered with haymakers – the Hawks will win. But it’s not difficult to imagine them losing Game 4 and roaring back to win Game 5 in Anaheim. They have been through difficult times before.
Seabrook said the Hawks “need to keep pace with these guys, make it a 2-2 series and a best-of-three. We’ve got to come out and have our best game of the series on Saturday and be ready to roll right from puck drop.’’
They grabbed home-ice advantage with the marathon victory on Tuesday and gave it up Thursday at home.
“It’s probably not the way it was drawn up, but it’s not surprising being in a close series like this, one-goal games,’’ Sharp said. “They’re a good team. We’re a good team as well.’’
This series feels like it’s going seven games. The Hawks might even win it if they use their best players.