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Blackhawks face tough test against Ducks in Western Conference Final

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Blackhawks face tough test against Ducks in Western Conference Final

The St. Louis Blues, the Minnesota Wild, even the Los Angeles Kings: these are teams the Blackhawks are used to seeing over and over again, regular season and postseason.

The Anaheim Ducks, well, the Blackhawks don’t see them quite as often. Still, in this day and age, there’s no such thing as an unknown opponent. Even if you play once or twice a season – or in the case of these two, three times – you see enough of your opponents’ other games, you watch enough film to be ready.

And when it comes to the Ducks, the Blackhawks had better be good and ready.

No, we still don’t know when the Ducks and Blackhawks will commence the Western Conference Finals. We could take guesses until we’re all confused but what the hell is the point of that? So let’s forget about what we don’t know (at the moment) and look at what we do know: the Ducks are going to be one formidable opponent.

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“You watch them play, they’ve got a lot of different options they use,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “Their [defensemen] are very mobile. They’re strong in all aspects. Faceoff circle, they’re good in that area, as well. So we need to be at our best in all areas ourselves.”

The Blackhawks were playing at their best, or pretty close to it, when they wrapped up their series vs. the Wild. The goaltending, defensive and penalty killing issues that had been there in the first round dissipated. Corey Crawford was back to his strong form. The Blackhawks held the Wild to seven goals over those four games, and two of those came in the final two and a half minutes of Game 4. The penalty kill came up in critical situations.

Now they bring that more complete game against the Ducks, who are playing pretty well themselves. The Ducks have lost just one of their nine postseason games, and that was an overtime contest. Much like the Blackhawks, they have their stars – Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have shone the brightest. They also have their secondary scorers. Would you have picked Matt Beleskey to have a goal in five consecutive games against the Flames?

The Ducks are a sizeable group and they’ll hit, something the Blackhawks know. But their concern is with another part of Anaheim’s game.

“We’ve got to take away their rush game,” Andrew Shaw said. “They’ve got a lot of guys who like to wheel and like to score goals on the rush. That’s one of their main scoring strategies. So we’ve got to shut that down.”

[MORE: Blackhawks draw Ducks in Conference Final]

The Blackhawks are entering this series confident coming off their sweep of the Wild. But they know they have to treat this series in an entirely different manner. The further they get into the rounds, the higher the stakes grow.

“We have good feelings against them but you don’t want to fall into getting complacent at all, or feel like because things have gone well that they’ll automatically go well [this round],” Corey Crawford said. “We’ll have to battle hard and remember what it felt like in the last series to battle hard and be successful because of that, and do the same thing. Fight through things and be the same team we were no matter what happens.”

The Blackhawks haven’t seen the Ducks as often as the Wild or Blues or Kings, at least on the ice, but they have a pretty good idea what to expect. The tests get tougher the further they go in the postseason. This is no exception.

“We feel like if you progress in the playoffs, you’ve got to elevate your game to beat teams that have got a lot of confidence, and they’ve got to be playing the right way,” Quenneville said. “They’ve got a lot of things going for them. You look at the first two rounds: they played extremely well. So we’ve got to raise it.”

Patrick Kane’s 2010 Game 6 OT goal named Goal of the Decade by the NHL

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USA Today

Patrick Kane’s 2010 Game 6 OT goal named Goal of the Decade by the NHL

Since joining the NHL in 2007, Patrick Kane continues to have a long and illustrious career. He was recently honored for being the 90th player in NHL history for to record 1,000 points, the fourth only member of the franchise to do so. Now, as a lead up to announcing their First and Second All-Decade teams on Jan. 24, the NHL has awarded Kane with Goal of the Decade.

The goal being celebrated occurred during Game 6 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Final against the Philadelphia Flyers. Chicago fans all remember the moment. The Blackhawks and Flyers were tied 3-3 after regulation and 4:06 into overtime, Kane scores the game-winning goal. With that goal, the Blackhawks win the Cup, ending the championship drought in Chicago after 49 years.

The Flyers tied the game with 3:59 minutes remaining in regulation, but Kane brought back the win for the Blackhawks. To call it triumphant would be a massive understatement.

WATCH: Patrick Kane's 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Goal of the Decade

"I was calling for the puck, trying to make a play on the defenseman [Kimmo] Timonen," Kane told NHL.com. "I just got around him and saw a path to be able to get a puck on net. I wasn't really thinking I'd score on that shot but maybe you're shooting for a rebound, create some havoc. I just saw it go through his legs, hit the pad and stick in the inside of the net there."

This honor comes on the heels former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville being back in Chicago for the first time since the Blackhawks let him go in 2018. He was honored at the United Center on the same night at Kane’s pregame ceremony celebrating 1,000 points.

The Blackhawks went on to win two more Stanley Cups in the decade, but Kane’s goal was the one that started them all.

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Recapping Joel Quenneville's homecoming and a memorable night of celebration in Chicago

Recapping Joel Quenneville's homecoming and a memorable night of celebration in Chicago

There was a special buzz around the United Center on Tuesday. A different kind of atmosphere than usual. 

The Blackhawks had won five in a row and 11 of their past 15 to climb back into the Western Conference playoff race and have been playing, by far, their best hockey of the season over the last month. The Florida Panthers were also riding a five-game winning streak and had won 12 of their past 16 to move into a top 3 spot in the Atlantic Division.

This was a big matchup in the standings for both teams before the NHL All-Star break and bye week because they each have to sit on this result for nine straight days. That itself was enough for the intensity level to be heightened.

But Tuesday was ultimately a night of celebration in Chicago.

It marked the highly-anticipated return of Joel Quenneville, who was back at the United Center for the first time since being let go on Nov. 6, 2018. He arrived at the arena just after 4 p.m. with a handful of camera crews documenting his every move and had to be directed to the visiting coaches room after nearly forgetting where it was exactly located.

Quenneville caught up with just about everyone you can think of before making his way to the visiting NBA locker room because it was the only area large enough to fit all the media members for his pregame press conference. He spent a majority of the 15 minutes reminiscing about how special his 10-plus year tenure in Chicago was and did so with a huge smile on his face.

"It all brings back a special time in our lives and a special time with the city going through some amazing runs that are so memorable," Quenneville said. "So many people shared it and so many people played a hand in it and were responsible for it. Was very fortunate to have that type of career time here in Chicago and shared by a lot of people and feeling that today."

Before officially welcoming back Quenneville, the Blackhawks honored Patrick Kane with a special pregame ceremony after he became the 90th player in NHL history to record 1,000 points and fourth to do so in franchise history. It was a perfect way to kick off the night, and it set the bar high for the next ovation.

After the first TV timeout, the Blackhawks aired a 60-second video tribute for Quenneville that included some of his best bench reactions and celebrations from their playoff victories and three Stanley Cup runs. It was impossible to encapsulate what he's meant to the organization over a one-minute span, but the more important part was that Blackhawks fans finally got a chance to thank Quenneville for everything he did by giving him a deafening ovation that seemingly never ended.

"That felt unbelievable," Quenneville said. "It was a great feeling. Captured some special moments in the building when the enthusiasm and the excitement and the noise and Kaner’s starting the game off like that, and the building was rocking. It felt like a different game. Had some importance to it. It was special. It was kind of like saying thank you to me and I was thanking them, and it was all good. Felt great. That was certainly a memorable ovation I’m thankful for."

Seeing Quenneville behind the visiting bench was going to be strange for everyone. The fans, the media, the organization. And even the players.

"You just think things are going to stay the same forever and it’s weird when things change and guys go to other teams," Jonathan Toews said. "Coach Q just felt like a staple with this organization, this city as well."

In fitting fashion, the Blackhawks rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the second period by scoring three of the next four goals to make it an exciting finish. But it was the Panthers who prevailed on Q night.

To cap off the memorable evening, Quenneville addressed a large herd of reporters one final time before exiting the arena. But not before making his way to Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Toews and giving each of them hugs to show his love and appreciation for His Guys.

"When I left here, the bitterness that you think you might have leaving from here would have been prevalent," Quenneville said. "But I didn’t have any of that type of feeling. The memories were too special, and recapturing it here immediately, you can have the same sense of why it was like that. And show a lot of appreciation for everyone here. It’s a great place to play, special fans, fun building and great organization. So thanks."

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