By Brad Vandenberk
The Anaheim Ducks are not quacking their way to the top of the NHL standings they are literally steam rolling teams and now have a commanding 6 point lead in first place over all. The only team that is that 6 points back are your Chicago Blackhawks. The Ducks have won 18 of their last 19 games in convincing fashion especially embarrassing their last victims the Vancouver Canucks 9-1. The Hawks last affair was a 3-2 loss to the Avalanche at home on Tuesday. This game will be a determining factor to see how the Hawks match up against an elite team that they will have to prove beatable in order to make their way back to the Cup finals.
Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook were absent from practice on Thursday. Hossa taking a maintenance day and Seabrook was ill. Both were confirmed to be scheduled to play for this important match up. Corey Crawford gets the start once again and tries to return to the winning form they had before he was injured. Jonas Hiller continued his hot start for the Ducks. Sheldon Brookbank and Michael Kostka were scratched once again.
The opening period didn’t start to well for Johnny Oduya who gave up a puck to Ryan Getzlaf in front of Crawford. Good thing Corey was ready for the shot. Kyle Palmieri walks in and beats Crawford but not the post. Kris Versteeg breaks in all alone at the other end and already this game is living up to its hype. Even the 4th line chips in when Brandon Bollig gets a great chance at the side of Hiller. Jonathan Toews line continues to dominate the league and it even shows against this Ducks team. The Hawks get the first power play of the game when Andrew Shaw takes a puck from behind the net and gets hooked by Hampus Lindholm. During the man advantage, Shaw goes a little too far with Saku Koivu at center ice and gets called for interference creating a 46 second 4 on 4. Just as the Ducks gain a 1:14 of their own power play time, Hossa and Toews break in on a 2 on 1 shorthanded. Hossa elects to keep the puck and fires it past Hiller igniting the UC to the sound of Chelsea Dagger 1-0. The Hawks continue to keep coming at the first place Ducks. Toews line begins to pepper shots at Hiller trying to slip another one past the hottest goalie in the league. Nick Leddy was very noticeable with the puck on his stick all period. Versteeg takes a puck hard to the net and it makes its way past Hiller 2-0. As the period winds down, Crawford robs Corey Perry point blank. Michal Rozsival hammers Perry from behind with a cross check and the Ducks finish the period on the power play. Hawks lead in shots on net 15-7.
The second period opens with the Ducks still having 45 seconds of power play time. The Hawks kill off the penalty and still continue to rise to the pace and challenge. Sharp actually hustles down the other end of the ice and beating the Ducks defensemen to an icing call. Veteran Teemu Selanne gets called for hooking Brandon Saad who goes hard to the net. During that same power play, Getzlaf can’t shut his mouth and the ref final calls him for an unsportsmanlike penalty and the Hawks get 31 seconds of 5 on 3 time. They can barely muster up a scoring opportunity until Versteeg jumps off the bench and rifles a shot on Hiller who sees it all the way. Even though coach Q had some negative things to say about his 3rd line, they rose to the occasion for this one. Bryan Bickell stands wide open in front of the net and Versteeg finds him, but Hiller makes the stop, he gets another attempt on the wrap around and passes it cross crease. Patrick Kane shows off his dangle moves break through the entire Ducks team and sending a back hand over the net. Sharp locates Marcus Kruger coming off the bench who his saved by Hiller. Seabrook makes a great play at the blue line breaking up a potential 2 on 1 for the Ducks. Cam Fowler is the next victim shown the penalty box, when he cross checked Ben Smith up near the neck. Hawks get their 4th power play of the game but cannot capitalize. Bollig tries to get under Perry’s skin with a board battle that goes on quite some time with Perry on his back for most of it. As the announcement for last minute left in the period echoes throughout the UC, Perry hit Kruger from behind in front of the Hawks bench and when Crawford leaves the net for the extra attacker, the Hawks hold the puck to till the period ends and will start the 3rd period on their 5th power play of the game. As the horn blows Versteeg and Bickell run into one another with Versteeg taking the brunt of it. Blackhawks continue to dominate in shot category 26-11.
After the incident ending the second period, Versteeg does not return to the game and is finished for the night. The Hawks do however, start the period on the power play. Rozsival is the point man with the understanding of having a lead and not keeping a forward on the backend. Smith breaks in with Kruger but failed to make the pass across. Kane walks in and lets Francois Beauchemin sprawl on his belly as he fires the puck over Hiller and the net. At the other end, Jakob Silfverberg is robbed by Crawford on a point blank attempt. Crawford stands strong taking another Perry shot in close. He came out and played the angles perfectly. The Hawks add to their lead when Seabrook sends a clearing attempt up ice which Bickell chases down and final gets the monkey off his back after the puck trickles over Hiller and into the net 3-0. The Ducks finally get on the board when Getzlaf and company break in on a 3 on 1 and Oduya does what he can but the Ducks captain keeps and beats Crawford 3-1. Under a minute later Palmeiri sends, what seems to be, a harmless shot on Crawford who gets beat through the five whole and now the Ducks are all the sudden within one 3-2. Right after this coach Q uses his timeout. Hawks come right back at Hiller keeping pressure on the Ducks. Dustin Penner, gets a wide open chance on Crawford but nothing was going to knock him off his game tonight. With 1:10 the Ducks pull Hiller. Hossa gets a chance at a wide open net and makes it count and the Hawks win their first home game in 2014 defeating the Ducks 4-2.
Sharp Toews Hossa Keith Seabrook
Saad Shaw Kane Oduya Hjalmarsson
Bickell Handzus Versteeg Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Kruger Smith
-Hawks out shot Ducks 35-21
-Hawks go 0/5 on the power play with the Ducks going 0/2.
-Keith led all Hawks with 25:36 TOI, Kane was next with 23:03 who was double shifting in Versteeg’s absence in the 3rd period.
-Toews was 14/23 in the faceoff dot, Shaw 4/11, Handzus 6/10, Kruger 4/5.
-Hossa had 8 shots on net, while Sharp had 6.
-Hawks will play the Bruins at 11:30 CT on Sunday at the UC. This will be the first meeting since beating them for the Cup in June.