The Chicago Blackhawks went down 4-1 in Anaheim on Sunday, to give the Ducks the early advantage in their NHL Western Conference final series.
Hampus Lindholm and Kyle Palmieri scored to give Anaheim a two-goal lead, before veteran Brad Richards scored to raise hopes of a Blackhawks comeback in the last minute of the second period. But Nate Thompson scored off a rebound to restore the Ducks two-goal cushion, and Jakob Silfverberg put to rest any lingering Blackhawk hopes with an empty net goal right at the end.
Despite the wide margin of defeat, it was the Blackhawks that started brighter, playing with pace and intensity, and they looked the better team for long stretches of the first two periods. But for Ducks’ goaltender Frederick Andersen, who made a spectacular stick save off Blackhawks center Patrick Kane early on and would finish with 32 saves, this could well have ended in the Blackhawks favor. They had more shots — 33 to 27 — but it was the Ducks that scored first, with defenseman Lindholm finishing off an assist from Silfverberg with just under nine minutes of the first period left.
The Blackhawks went further behind in the second period after a miscue by goaltender Corey Crawford allowed Palmieri to score, as the Ducks capitalised on the Blackhawks’ defensive problems. An injury to Mihal Roszival forced Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to hand a playoff debut to defenseman David Rundblad, and according to the Chicago Tribune, he could have done more to prevent both goals.
Richards made sure the Blackhawks wouldn’t go into the third period in a two-goal hole when he forced the puck off Francois Beauchemin to score right before the 2nd intermission, and they had opportunities to complete the turnaround when Anaheim got into penalty issues early in the third period. Yet, with both Simon Despres and Ryan Kesler taking back-to-back penalties — for holding and hooking, respectively — the Blackhawks still couldn’t get the puck past the excellent Anderson.
That proved the Blackhawks last stand. Thompson put away Anaheim’s third goal after Crawford coughed up Andrew Cogliani’s shot with 12 minutes left on the clock, and, as the Blackhawks pushed forward in desperation, Silfverberg struck the final blow.
Game 2, at Anaheim’s Honda Center, is scheduled for Tuesday May 19, and Blackhawks coach Joe Quenneville will be looking for improvements at both ends of the ice. The likes of captain Jonathan Toews, Richards, and Kane will have to find a way past the inspired Andersen, and perhaps even more importantly, a compromised defense will have to do much better.
If that doesn’t happen, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel could soon be paying up on that friendly wager with Anaheim mayor Tom Tait. More importantly, the Blackhawks — champions in 2010 and 2013 — will struggle to add another Stanley Cup to their collection.
[Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Sports]