ANAHEIM, Calif. —A week ago, the Blackhawks and the Ducks barely knew each other.
Now, they can barely stand each other.
“I’m sick of them, that’s for sure,” Anaheim winger Matt Beleskey said told reporters.
That tends to happen in a playoff series, particularly one as tight, as grueling, and as physical as this Western Conference final. With each passing period, each passing game, the hits get a little harder, the post-whistle skirmishes last a little longer, the animosity runs a little deeper. It might not be Hawks-Canucks from four years ago, or Hawks-Kings last year, or Hawks-Blues any year, but it’s getting there. This series has gone from mutual respect to mutual assured destruction in a hurry, from intense to chippy to nuclear.
“I think so,” Hawks winger Andrew Desjardins said. “It’s getting deeper and deeper, so guys are getting frustrated with each other a little bit. That’s the way series go.”
The Hawks pride themselves on their poise, and their ability to not get drawn into the extracurriculars that more physical teams such as the Ducks and Blues try to goad them into. But a sequence late in the third period of Game 4, with the game tied 4-4, showed just how dangerous it can be to let hatred get in the way of hockey. Corey Crawford, who has been displeased with the Ducks’ tendency to bump him in the crease and get away with it (neither the referees nor the Hawks defensemen have done much to stop it), was furious after he was nudged by Corey Perry. He responded with a two-handed slash to Beleskey’s torso, and in doing so, nearly gave up the game-winning goal to Ryan Getzlaf, whose shot deflected off Crawford’s shoulder even though he wasn’t even looking.
Intensity and nastiness are good. Foolishness is not.
“We’ll always remind them about discipline,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We always want to play hard inside the whistles. You find the first rounds are usually the most intense as far as extracurriculars after whistles.As the series progress, the officials, I think they usually try to kill that immediately in a series. But [these are] pretty intense games. Longer games. A lot of things can happen. We’ve just got to be smart. We always talk about discipline. We don’t want any penalties after the whistle, for sure.”
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said the intensity is merely a product of the stakes, with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line.
“Jeepers, both of us want to get to where we haven’t been in a while, or ever in some cases,” Boudreau said. “When that comes to task, you do whatever it takes to win — whatever it takes. … That’s all because of the prize. That’s all because you grew up from 5 years old, when you’re playing ball hockey in the driveway, you’re dreaming about holding that thing. So you do whatever it takes in all the cases, which is what makes hockey so great. It makes it super.”
Two great teams, one great prize. Throw in a whole bunch of riveting overtimes, and, well, it might not be Hawks-Canucks yet, but it’s getting close.
“When you have a history with a team, the way we did with the Canucks and the Kings, it’s easier to get off to a quick start as far as picking up where you left a off in previous series,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “For these two teams, I think it’s getting more and more personal. I’ve said in previous years, the storylines kind of emerge, the personal battles, things that [reporters] talk about mostly, aren’t quite forgotten game to game between two teams. I think we’re seeing this series get more and more heated as we get deeper into it.”