The Chicago Blackhawks are back down in the Western Conference Final after a 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night.
After a grueling, record-setting Game 2 victory that evened the series, the Blackhawks returned home with those essential -- but often elusive -- intangibles of momentum and a mental edge in a series that has lived up to its brutal physical billing. It was that mental toughness that the home team hoped to display Thursday. The Hawks wanted to come out strong on their home ice and show that their speed and early-period dominance in each of the first two games of the series did not suffer from their Tuesday night marathon. However, a tweaked lineup came out flat and never found its edge in a largely lifeless performance.
Drawing energy from their fans and an electric United Center atmosphere, the Hawks took the ice in the first period with some fresh legs. Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette were healthy scratches in favor of Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom, neither of whom had spent much of these playoffs on the ice.
The Ducks started early throwing pucks at Corey Crawford early with a flurry of chances. Crawford looked strong in net and no worse for wear from his career game on Tuesday night. The Hawks went on the first power play of the night after Corey Perry was sent to the box for a trip, but were unable to make it count. Halfway through the first period the play was back and forth with little sustained offensive zone time for either team. At 10:28 of the first period the Hawks held a 5-4 edge in shots on goal and went on their second power play of the game on a holding penalty by Ryan Kesler.
Once again the Hawks power play looked anemic and just over one minute in, Marian Hossa took a holding penalty leading to 4-on-4 hockey for 42 seconds. The Ducks took over on the power play and with two big bodies in front of Crawford it was quickly 1-0 Ducks on a Patrick Maroon redirect of a Hampus Lindholm slap shot.
A high sticking double minor by Jakob Silfverberg on Jonathan Toews sent the Hawks to their third power play of the first period. The Hawks had only two shots on the four-minute man advantage and were unable to sustain any time in the offensive zone.
And then, finally, with a little over a minute remaining in the period, Patrick Kane would sail into the offense zone, mullet flying, and deliver a beautiful spin and let loose a back-hand shot that sailed past Frederik Andersen to tie the game. The period ended with the Hawks a dismal 0-of-4 on the power play, even in shots on goal with eight apiece and the Ducks once again enjoying a 14-7 edge in hits, but on the scoreboard -- where it counts -- it was all tied up.
With the start of the second period the Hawks looked to minimize turnovers and generate more offensive zone time and shots on goal. However, they displayed just the opposite. In the first 3:06 of the period there were nine shots on goal and the Ducks had eight of them. Pucks were rolling everywhere with both teams struggling to settle them on both ends of the ice. Crawford continued to shine in the net while the Ducks seemed to play keep away with the puck for what felt like minutes at a time.
Halfway through the second period, the early energy in the United Center had all but disappeared and the Hawks weren't doing much other than trying to keep up. A Toews wrap-around chance came up empty, but seemed to infuse the team and the crowd with a bit more energy. The Ducks continued to dominate in scoring chances, hits, blocked shots and face-offs. However, after the nearly six full periods of hockey on Tuesday night the Ducks' customary aggression and blistering hits seemed to be just a bit tempered.
At 12:50 of the period the Hawks had yet another strong scoring chance on a beautiful play generated off of a Kane pass to Shaw then to Versteeg which was turned away by Andersen in a game that was shaping up to be another goalie duel. As the period wound down to under five minutes, the Hawks found a bit of their jump and began to carry the puck cleanly through the neutral zone into the offensive zone and put pucks to the net. Shots by Oduya and Saad as well as chance for Hossa were all kept at bay by Andersen. Andrew Shaw showed up on the doorstep as well only to be turned away as the clock ticked to under three minutes in the period.
At 19:05 of a penalty-free second period, Simon Despres broke the tie and buried the puck in a wide open net unseen by Crawford to give the Ducks a 2-1 lead as the teams headed to intermission. At the end of the period the Ducks continued to lead statistically with a 22-18 edge in shots on goal and 31-19 lead in hits.
The third period opened with renewed vigor by the home team and several good chances by the line of Bickell-Richards-Kane were once again pushed aside by Andersen. Persistent offensive zone presence was clearly on the minds of the Blackhawks, down by one in the final frame. At 5:02 of the third period the Hawks headed to their fifth power play of the game as Ryan Getzlaf was sent to the box for a high stick on Andrew Shaw. Failure on the man advantage continued and the Hawks came away empty again. Halfway through the final period, Anaheim used its timeout and as play began again the Hawks went back on the offensive before Kesler and Duncan Keith were handed matching two-minute minors for holding and slashing, respectively. As the clock approached the five-minute mark in the game, both coaches appeared to the shortening shifts, while the Hawks pace became a bit more frantic. The United Center crowd, quiet for long stretches tonight, urged on the home team
With two minutes left to go, Quenneville pulled Crawford and went to six attackers. The Hawks began the last minute scramble to put up the tying goal. Gaining the puck, Getzlaf fired at the empty net missing wide and icing the puck with 1:32 remaining. With 1:12 remaining the crowd took up the chanting again as the puck was iced again by the visitors at 1:02. With under a minute remaining the Hawks took up residence in the Ducks crease yet somehow the puck would not cross the goal line. One last rush came after the Hawks timeout at 34 seconds and Kane had a final opportunity to send the game to overtime, but was unable to put the puck in net. The loss cost the Hawks the home ice advantage they had won just two days ago and they now need to regroup and figure out how to fix a power play that went 0-of-5 and put up more points against a defensively stingy Anaheim team.
The series stays at the United Center for Game 4 on Saturday night, which stands as a pivotal game before things head back west. The Hawks have already shown they can win in Anaheim, but after losing Thursday night, they'll have to do it at least one more time.