Of late, the Ducks have been the Achilles Heel for the Chicago Blackhawks. The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks just could not seem to solve the Ducks. Until Friday night.
Chicago stepped up to the plate from the start in the 4-2 defeat of Anaheim. Anaheim stepped up to the plate late in the third period.
"If you play a team like the Blackhawks, you can't just try to work for half a period and hope you win" said goaltender Jonas Hiller, who saw his 14 game winning streak end. "We got outworked and that has been our staple of the last few games."
The Ducks can't say they weren't warned.
Falling behind against lesser teams is one thing. Falling behind against the second best team in the NHL is another.
"I think we're going to bring out the best in them," said coach Bruce Boudreau before the game. "There's no doubt in my mind. In the last 72 hours or 48 hours, we've been getting an awful lot of praise from people in the media. If we think we're just going to throw our jerseys out there and Chicago's going to turn a blind eye, we're in for a rude awakening."
The Ducks have struggled in the first period, but this time they were just plain flat. And in the second period, too.
Marian Hossa scored short handed at 10:34 of the first period, putting Chicago on the board. Kris Versteeg made it 2-0 at 17:06, but the Ducks did not appear to respond.
Instead, Anaheim sent a steady stream of players to the penalty box. Or at least the referees did. Whether or not reffing was iffy, the Ducks still had to play the game the way it was called, and they just did not come to play.
"Some guys maybe just weren't ready for this," said Boudreau. "It's a learning experience to be on top. There is a commitment to staying there, or you don't stay there too long."
Hiller made 31 saves in the game and kept the Ducks in it. His only bobble was the goal from Bryan Bickell at 10:13 of the third. Hiller had the puck in the glove, but not securely. It bounced like a hot potato right into the net behind him. 3-0 Blackhawks. At that point seemingly insurmountable.
And then the Ducks woke up.
Just as it appeared Corey Crawford was headed for a shut out, Ryan Getzlaf put a puck behind him at 13:47.
Less than a minute later Kyle Palmieri brought the Ducks within one goal. Knowing how good this team is when coming from behind, Chicago fans got very quiet. And worried. With good reason.
The empty netter from Hossa at 19:52 provided the sigh of relief they wanted and for the first time in five games, Chicago came out on top.
"We didn’t come out and have the start we wanted," said Palmieri. "A couple bounces and it could’ve gone the other way. It would’ve been a different game. Overall, I don’t think we played our best for the first two periods. Against a team like that, you have to bring a 60-minute game."
Perhaps the Ducks, who are still four points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings, will get the message and pull out a 60 minute effort against the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. The Blues are the third best team and they will hand Anaheim their second loss in a row if the Ducks repeat their errors.
"They (St. Louis) lost their last game in their own building and it’ll definitely make them hungrier," said Palmieri. "But that’s the best part about hockey. Tomorrow night we get to go out and do it again. Hopefully we get off to a good start and go from there."
No hope involved. Just plain hard work from the time the first puck drops.
In other notes: Sheldon Souray, who has been out all season with a wrist tendon injury, is out for the rest of the season folllowing a second surgery. The injury was not healing, even after the first surgery, so another was deemed necessary. Fortunately for the Ducks the blueline has stepped up and performed well. Otherwise, Souray's absence would be more greatly felt.