Having split back-to-back overtime thrillers resulting in identical 5-4 scores, the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks have been engaged in one of the more memorable conference finals in recent memory..
With odds makers liking their chances of a victory on the road by more than a goal, the Ducks are one win away from their first venture to the Stanley Cup Finals since 2007, but must take on the Blackhawks and an expectedly raucous United Center crowd in Wednesday night’s Game 6.
More specifically, Anaheim has to beat Chicago on the road for a second time in the series to avoid a decisive Game 7, and the Blackhawks have gone 6-1 overall at home during the postseason.
Furthermore, despite the loss in Game 5 that put them on the brink of elimination, there’s plenty for the Blackhawks to feel good about before the next showdown.
For one, Chicago was able to battle back after Anaheim finished the first period up 3-0. The Blackhawks defense, which ranked No. 2 in the league during the regular season, clamped down and kept the Ducks scoreless until late in the third period. Chicago also maintained its focus by playing smart and staying out of the penalty box, with only two whistles blown throughout Game 5.
But really the Blackhawks have kept their composure throughout the series. There’s no denying the Ducks have used their considerable offensive firepower behind right wing Corey Perry’s nine goals, seven more from left wing Matt Beleskey, and six apiece from center Ryan Kesler and left wing Patrick Maroon.
Still Chicago’s stifled a Ducks power play that could have corrected its woes from the regular season in this series, especially with the Blackhawks defense missing defenseman Michal Rozsival to a broken ankle. Instead Chicago’s held Anaheim, who was 28 th in the NHL on the power play, to one power play goal out of 11 opportunities.
It’s a credit to defenseman Duncan Keith, whose plus-8 plus-minus is the fifth-highest during these playoffs, with Brent Seabrook not too far behind at plus-6.
It’s also rare to tout a goalie who’s surrendered nine goals in his last two starts, but Chicago’s Corey Crawford has faced a barrage of shots throughout this series and is likely, and understandably, exhausted. In the classic triple-overtime Game 2 Crawford turned back 60 of 62 Duck shots on goal, a Chicago victory. Then in Game 4 he blocked 47 out of 51 shots. All told Crawford’s made 178 saves in this series, which is more than the two previous rounds combined.
History does suggest that the Blackhawks are in trouble heading into Game 6. Under head coach Joel Quenneville Chicago’s stared down a 3-2 series hole the last four seasons, and only once, back in 2013, has it advanced. Of course that was the year they won the Cup.
“We’ve been here a few times before, so we’ll be ready to go,” left wing Patrick Sharp said the Chicago Sun-Times. “This game’s over with. It’s a loss. It’s a frustrating loss. But we’re in a playoff series. It’s all about the next game.”
And the Blackhawks do have the resurgence of center Jonathan Toews as a big glimmer of hope. The Canadian lefty’s heroics in Game 5 not only forced overtime but gave the Blackhawks reason to believe they could win the game. Chicago obviously fell just 45 seconds into the extra period, but Toews still strung together his best back-to-back scoring games in the entire playoffs.
All told Toews has seven goals and nine assists to lead the team with 16 points, which shows he’s decided to take on more scoring responsibilities. Games 4 and 5 were the first time Toews has scored in consecutive playoff match ups since last year’s first round against St. Louis, a series Chicago took by winning four straight.
Start Time: Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET
Betting Odds: Blackhawks -145, -1.5; o/v 5 goals
Prediction: Blackhawks over Ducks, 3-1