14-0. That's the Chicago Blackhawks' record in playoff series that have hit 2-2 in the past seven years. A streak begging to be broken or a ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in the last 6 years? The team has a chance to put that to the test in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night.
After yet another nerve-wracking, stomach-churning overtime victory on Saturday night the Hawks would love nothing more than to storm into the Honda Center and win decisively in only three periods of hockey. In order to make that happen Chicago will need to have contributions from all four lines in addition to continued stellar play from the Captain and Kane.
Rest and mental preparation after an OT game and a long flight to California are on tap for the Hawks before tonight's pivotal contest. Coming out strong and taking a lead in the first period will be crucial to beating a Ducks team that is 2-0 after overtime losses in these playoff and will be determined to avenge its second overtime loss in this series.
The top line of Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will need to bring a big effort again tonight after combining for six points in Saturday's victory. The Ducks will be back on last change and promise to once again make getting to the net a challenge. After some ill-fated changes in Game 3, Joel Quenneville will not be making any line changes for Game 5.
Will, mental toughness and some lucky bounces of the puck are going to continue to define this series. The Hawks are battle-tested and their experience cannot be discounted. When they need to find a way to win, they almost always do. Tonight would be a good time to get one of those wins.
Here are Chicago's expected lines:
On defense, we'll likely see the same groupings from Game 4, and obviously Corey Crawford will be in net once again. Chicago's defensive effort two days ago was mostly fine other than a disastrous minute in the third period, so hopefully we get more of that without an absurd lapse.
Opponent Breakdown: Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks are continuing to rely heavily on physical play to wear down their opponents and don't seem likely to move from that plan of action. However, they have not yet been able to shut the Blackhawks down on physical play alone and coach Bruce Boudreau has indicated that he may be considering some changes to his lines and possible defensive pairings for Game 5. The Ducks don't seem to recognize that delivering those hits has an impact just as surely as receiving them does and now they are faced with a best-of-three to see if that tactic can elevate them to the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite scoring three goals in 37 seconds on Saturday night, the Ducks were unable to secure at win that would have given them a commanding 3-1 lead in the series heading back home. If they are able to be successful against the Hawks they are going to have to equal them in mental toughness and learn how to close out a game against a team that rarely loses when the stakes are high. If bullying the Hawks into submission with hits game after game is their primary strategy, the Ducks may find themselves watching the Stanley Cup Final rather than playing in it.
Here are the Ducks' expected lines:
And their expected defensive parings:
Chicago: Michal Rozsival (lower body)
When: 8 p.m. CT
Where: Honda Center