As the series shifts back to the United Center and the Hawks play at home for the first time in 18 days, they bring with them the requisite split of the first two games on the road to put themselves in solid position as the series moves forward. And coming off the longest game in franchise history just 42 hours ago, both the Hawks and the Ducks will have their depth and endurance tested tonight.
In the first two games at the Pond-a Center (GET IT), Bruce Boudreau matched lines a bit more than was anticipated, but still not quite to a degree that yielded a thorough defense of home ice. Game 1 saw Ryan Kesler getting most of his time against the Toews line and playing things to a draw, whereas game 2 saw them eventually getting more time against Vermette, Sharp, and Teuvo, who pecker slapped them, with winger Jakob Silvferberg lugging a horrific -20 in attempt differential on Kesler’s wing. Gabby also got Getzlaf out against the Kruger line more frequently, and Kruger played him to a draw at 14 attempts a piece while also scoring the game winner with the Getzlaf line on the ice. However overall, the Ducks did have a slight advantage in their share of possession, 115 attempts to 108 in 100 minutes of even strength hockey.
One thing to take note of is Boudreau’s lack of trust in his fourth line of Sekac, Rakell, and Emerson Etem, each of whom saw under 18 minutes for the double length game even with the benefit of having last change. Granted, the Ducks were chasing or tied for basically the entire game, but that number stands to dip even further now if he’s not able to cherry pick their matchups, putting more reliance on Getzlaf and Kesler specifically, making them start more times in the defensive zone to cover for the offensive zone starts that that group apparently needs.
It will also be more difficult to mask the lead footed Clayton Stoner, he of two immediate vicious cross checks in the early goings of Game 2, only one of which he was penalized for. Either way, without careful consideration from Boudreau, Stoner could be getting the turnstile treatment from any number of Hawk forwards.
This will all be in front of Frederik Andersen, who has channeled Mike Smith to this point in the series with an ungodly .955 save percentage. This will be Andersen’s first career start in the United Center, as he did not play in the Ducks’ trips this year or last. It’s been a different story on the road so far for Andersen however, with just an .891 in four games, allowing four goals twice, each time in Game 3s against Winnipeg and Calgary. Andersen has been electric, and he’s been particularly adept at playing the puck. If the Hawks have to dump the puck in as a result of being stood up at the line, it would be wise for them to either soft chip in the near corner or lob the puck into the far corner, thereby preventing Andersen from corralling it and handing it off to a Duck defenseman.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, the numbers that have been harped on here have been 55% possession and .930 save percentage, with the opposition needing one or the other in order to even give themselves a coinflip’s chance in the series. Andersen’s .955 save percentage was already mentioned above, and to this point the Hawks have 51% share of possession (169 to 161) without the benefit of a home game to this point. At press time there have been no changes explicitly stated for tonight’s lineup, and Joel Quenneville has been coy regarding Kris Versteeg re-entering the lineup, much to the dismay of all involved except Kris Versteeg. The prayer is that when, not if, he returns, it’s not for Teuvo, who really appears to have something brewing with Patrick Sharp, and home ice seems like the right catalyst to get that dam to break. Bryan Bickell seems to be laboring a bit after heading to the room in game 1, so that might be an option of putting him with Kane and Richards, the only spot he’s had success this year, especially with the hammock shifts available to Quenneville.
Game 2’s record length also caused much consternation and bleating over the workload of the top four defensemen, with Kyle Cumiskey and Kimmo Timonen paling in ice time to those in the Circle of Trust. It’s already been covered twice, but it bears repeating: this is the time of year that it has to be done, and it’s in Quenneville’s DNA to do so. Not too long ago the $35 million dollar Nick Leddy (sky point) found his ass stapled to a bench in the late goings of late round games. And again, now with the advantage of last change, Quenneville will be able to pick spots better for Kimmo and Cumiskey, but don’t expect much to change if the game is close in the third.
Obviously Corey Crawford will get the nod tonight in the crease, and his save percentage got boosted all the way to .925 with Game 2’s 60 save clinic. Crawford certainly got bailed out by a handful of posts the other day, but he’s seeing the puck as well as he has in months. He’ll need to continue to be strong down low with the Ducks hurling all kinds of bodies at the crease.
Obviously the big storyline tonight will be the matchups, and Quenneville’s recent history suggests that Toews will take on Getzlaf, putting power against power. However, he has the option of using Kruger as well, particularly with defensive zone starts. The key will be finding an answer for the Cogliano-led third line, which has been the Ducks’ most consistent to this point. But on a team with the Turd Triplets of Perry, Kesler, and Getzlaf, if Andrew Cogliano is going to get his instead of those three going off, that’s something most coaches can live with. The Ducks aren’t built to trap, and Gabby doesn’t have it in him to deploy it, so look for a bombardment of a forecheck early to try to take the Hawks out of it. There will be space behind those forecheckers. If the Hawk defensemen can find it in their outlet passes, that will bode well. It’s time to dictate the pace and take the series by the short and curlies at Club 1901. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re headed to the UC tonight, make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program outside. We’re outside Gates 2 and 3, on Wood and Monroe as well as Damen and Monroe. If you’re not going, you can get the digital version right here.