The dominant storyline heading into the Western Conference final was whether the Blackhawks — particularly their top-heavy defense — would be able to withstand the punishing attack of the Anaheim Ducks.
Four games and two wins apiece in, the Ducks are the only ones still talking about it. And they are. A lot.
“If we just keep doing the same thing over and over again, we’re going to wear them down,” Anaheim’s Corey Perry said. “As the series moves on, that’s beneficial for us.”
Added Ryan Kesler: “It’s going to wear them down. No human can withstand that many hits.”
Even in the wake of a second multiple-overtime gut-punch of a loss, the Ducks looked at the extra time as a boon for them in the long run, even if there’s not much long run left.
“It is 2-2, but the longer the game goes, the more those ‘D’ play,” Andrew Cogliano said. “That’s a good thing for us. Those guys are great defensemen. They are top, top-end defensemen. But they are playing a lot of minutes. We’re going home and we’re going to make it tough on them.”
There’s no doubt that the Hawks defenseman are logging a ton of minutes. There’s no doubt that those have been, to a large extent, tough minutes. But there’s no indication that Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya are starting to slip, either. And other than Keith, who has played 147 minutes through four games, 24 more than the Ducks’ top minutes-eater, Francois Beauchemin, the Hawks’ numbers are pretty comparable to Anaheim’s. And the Hawks delivered an uncharacteristic 52 hits themselves in Game 4.
“I think it goes both ways,” Bryan Bickell said. “They are wearing us down, but they’re getting tired from wearing us down.”
With only two or three games left in the series, if the Ducks’ strategy is going to pay off and the Hawks are suddenly going to be wracked with fatigue and soreness, well, now’s the time. But the Hawks don’t seem to think it’ll happen.
“That’s the only thing that gets talked about,” Joel Quenneville said, in a somewhat dismissive tone. “Their defensemen probably played just about as much as ours. It’s a game that you’re trying to get through and win. Our guys take care of themselves real well.”
Or as Seabrook put it: “I feel fine.”
Jonathan Toews’ beauty of a goal early in the third got lost in the shuffle after the five goals that followed it in the period, but it was a big one for the Hawks captain, who hadn’t scored since Game 2 of the second round — a span of only five games, but also more than three weeks. And Toews felt it.
“I kind of feel that pressure all the time,” he said. “I know it’s there. Most of it, I put on myself. I’ve got to stay patient and not show any frustration or show any sign of anything snowballing in the wrong direction for my own game. As a line with [Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad], we generated a lot. Finally got a bounce. That’s what I was waiting for.”
Trevor van Riemsdyk did not travel with the team to Anaheim on Sunday. Quenneville did not expect to make any lineup changes.