Ducks look to be Game 7 aggressors against Blackhawks


Ducks look to be Game 7 aggressors against Blackhawks

ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks liked what they did through those early third-period minutes of Game 6. It just took them too long to get to that point.

“I don’t know if it was nerves or waiting to see things happen,” said Ryan Getzlaf, “We were on our heels, not going forward, until we were down, to pour it on.”

The Ducks were pouring it on in that third period before Andrew Shaw thwarted their momentum, and their chance to close the series, in the Blackhawks’ 5-2 Game 6 victory. Now it comes down to Saturday night when the Ducks host the Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final.

[MORE: Blackhawks benefit from extra day's rest prior to Game 7]

Anaheim has been through this before. The Ducks have been asked and have answered questions about failing at Game 7s before. For them, however, it’s not about responding to previous Game 7s; it’s about responding to Game 6, in which they didn’t react to the Blackhawks’ onslaught in time.

“I think both teams in the first period [of Game 6] it was, ‘let’s see what the other team does before we react.’ And then we didn’t react and in 3 1/2 minutes they had three goals,’” Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Once we scored, we thought, ‘oh, man, we’re in a hockey game. There’s a good chance they’ll score first, so we have to make sure we keep our composure, keep coming at them and not go, ‘damn, they scored. Woe is me.’

“We have to have a strong mental game tomorrow as well as a strong systemized game,” Boudreau continued. “[Being] mentally strong is going to be a big advantage for someone.”

The Blackhawks have used that mental toughness to get them through some critical series the past few postseasons. It helped get them out of the second round and to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013. It just about got them back there in 2014. As for the Ducks, there are enough players remaining from that 2007 Cup team, Getzlaf and Corey Perry among them, to know what it takes to advance at this juncture.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

“We were waiting for something to happen last game. Eventually it did. We were on the wrong side of it,” Perry said. “I mean, if we play the way we did in Game 5 at the start of the first period and continue that all the way through, we're going to be good. That's the way we have to play.”

The Ducks didn’t like how long it took them to react in Game 6. It was a far cry from Game 5, when they came out and dominated and the Blackhawks were the group that wasn’t reacting fast enough. The Ducks know they won’t get anywhere if they sit back and wait. They’ve got home-ice advantage and a chance to exorcise the demons of Game 7s past.

“When we play to our capabilities, when we push the pace and we're on our toes, we feel like we're a difficult team to compete with,” Cam Fowler said. “We need to have that mindset tomorrow regardless of the situation or the magnitude of where we are. We need to come out as the aggressors. We need to stick with what got us here and take that into tomorrow's game.”

Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade


Blackhawks and Blue Jackets both going through own challenges of Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad trade

The Blackhawks and Blue Jackets blockbuster trade from the 2017 offseason is always a hot topic in Chicago when things aren't going great. It especially is when the two teams square off against each other, like Saturday at Nationwide Arena for the first time this season.

If it wasn't already apparent in Chicago, Artemi Panarin has emerged as a real NHL superstar and is set for a giant payday when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2019. He set a Blue Jackets record with 82 points in a single season and has nine points (three goals, six assists) through six games this season.

Brandon Saad, on the other hand, had a challenging first year back with the Blackhawks in 2017-18 after netting only 35 points in 82 games and is off to a slow start this year as well with zero goals and two assists through six games. After a demotion to the fourth line, he was close to being a healthy scratch on Thursday, which only magnifies where things are at as the two get ready to clash.

But Saad was never going to be able to replace Panarin's offensive production. Everybody knows that. Yet, the offensive comparisons will always be there as a barometer and that's something Saad doesn't think about, no matter how much fans talk about it.

"I don't think I do it," he said. "We're different players. He's a great player. Fans are going to do whatever comparisons they want, but at the end of the day you've got to be true to yourself and do what you bring to the table. He's a great player around the league. You can see his highlights and his goals, he's definitely a special player. But at the end of the day I've got confidence in my abilities too. We both bring different attributes, but they're going to make comparisons regardless."

A big reason why the Blackhawks reacquired Saad, other than his ability to play a 200-foot game, is because he carries a $6 million cap hit through 2020-21, which is two years more than Panarin at the same cap hit. (It's also important to note that the Blackhawks hoped they were getting a reliable, young backup goaltender in Anton Forsberg, but the injury to Corey Crawford thrust him into a role he wasn't exactly prepared for.)

It's not all rainbows for Columbus right now regarding where things stand with Panarin, who has made it clear he's not ready to sign a long-term extension. All signs point to the 26-year-old winger hitting the market, putting the Blue Jackets in a tricky situation ahead of the trade deadline. The Blackhawks very well could have found themselves in this position, too, had a deal not been made.

Both sides are dealing with their own challenges of the trade. Saad is still a key piece to the Blackhawks' puzzle and they're hoping to get more out of him, for no other reason than the team's overall success.

"You want to have success regardless of who you're playing for, who you're traded for, things like that," Saad said. "Naturally, just as competitors, you want to bring that excitement and you want to have success with the team and personally."

Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks


Anthony Duclair regrets not making most of opportunity with Blackhawks

Anthony Duclair knew what kind of opportunity he had in front of him when he was traded to the Blackhawks in January. The first day he stepped into the locker room, he admitted he was a little "star-struck."

But the marriage didn't last very long. 

After recording only two goals and eight assists in 23 games, the Blackhawks chose to move on from the restricted free agent by not extending a qualifying offer. Duclair later latched on with the Columbus Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 "prove-it" deal.

"I wasn't surprised," Duclair said before Saturday's game against his former team. "I knew that I didn't perform as well as I did when I was there. I think I was there for only 20 games and didn't live up to the standards. As soon as I didn't hear anything from my agent I sort of got the message. But it was time to move on."

Duclair made no excuses for what went wrong in Chicago and accepted responsibility for not taking advantage of his opportunity, even though a leg injury sidelined him for the final month that prevented him from giving the Blackhawks a larger sample size.

"I just didn't perform well," he said. "It's going to be one of my regrets, to get that opportunity in Chicago and not perform in the way I did. It was something I had to look in the mirror this summer and move on obviously, but at the same time whenever a team comes next I think I'm going to take that opportunity and run away with it."

It's obvious that Duclair's got the potential to be an effective offensive player in the NHL. But we've only seen that in flashes, which is a large reason why it didn't work out in Chicago and why, entering his fifth season in the league, he still finds himself trying to play for a long-term contract.

"Just being more consistent," Duclair said. "Thats comes up a lot and my agents talks to a couple GMs around the league and it's something I'm trying to work on. It's not something you can work on in the summer, it's more preparing mentally and physically and that's what I've been trying to do."

So far, so good in Columbus.

Duclair has two goals and two assists through six games and is averaging 15:22 of ice time playing in a top-six role, on track to shatter his previous career high in that category (14:23) when he did so as a sophomore in 2015-16 with Arizona. He even made headlines on Thursday after scoring a highlight-reel goal against the Philadelphia Flyers, saying his "phone blew up quite a bit."

How he scored it is what stood out and his perspective after it is encouraging for his overall growth, as well.

"I've already put it behind me to be honest with you," Duclair said. "I'm just focused on Chicago now. I want to be consistent throughout every shift. Look at that goal, [it was] second and third efforts. That's what I want to bring to the table every shift, especially with the guys I'm playing right now. I just want to be having the puck whenever you can and being big on the forecheck."