Three things the Anaheim Ducks must do to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 3 of their Western Conference finals series.
It’s one thing to lose in overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But lose a game that goes into multiple overtimes and a team can find itself in deep trouble. Just take a look at the list of the 10 longest OT games in playoff history. The team that came up short in one that did not immediately end a series went on to be eliminated in five of the remaining seven instances, even when the loss occurred in a Game 1 or 2.
Fortunately for Anaheim, that triple-OT thriller on Tuesday night against Chicago didn’t extend to a fourth OT, but at 56:12 worth of extra, bruising hockey it has the potential to swing the series in favor of the Blackhawks. How can the Ducks rebound from that heartbreaker? Here are three thoughts heading into tonight’s critical Game 3 matchup at the United Center:
• After watching his team come away dry after five trips to the power play well in Game 2—including a glorious opportunity with penalty killer Niklas Hjalmarsson trapped in the box during the first overtime period—Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau might want to consider all of his options ahead of Game 3.
Anaheim’s power play has been a pleasant surprise in the playoffs, clicking at 25.7% after stumbling along at just 15.7% during the regular season. So maybe you forgive Boudreau for extending his Ducks a little extra leash when the results weren’t coming in Game 2.
At the same time, the ability to recognize when something isn’t working and make in-game adjustments is where a coach earns his keep. And a unit that generates a total of six shots during five chances clearly wasn’t working.
Ryan Getzlaf’s line ate up two-thirds of the power play ice time, with Ryan Kesler’s line getting the rest. That’s the safe play. But on a night when the fourth line of Rickard Rakell, Jiri Sekac and Emerson Etem was displaying as much jump and creativity as it was, why not give that trio a taste? They generated eight shots despite limited use at five-on-five and routinely had Chicago’s defense on its heels. Maybe some of that spark would have translated into something special with one less defender on the ice.
There’s a risk involved with putting them out there. Sekac, for example, still retains some of that frustrating tentativeness that made him expendable in Montreal. But the risk is more acceptable now that the Ducks need to steal one on the road. If that unit has it going again tonight, they deserve a chance to show what they’ve got on the man advantage.
• Speaking of chances, it might be time to give James Wisniewski his.
Remember him? Boudreau hinted that he had big plans for the veteran blueliner when Wisniewski was acquired from Columbus at the trade deadline, suggesting he might even play on the first pair. “Wisniewski is not only a solid NHL defenseman, but he adds grit,” the coach said at the “He adds a power-play shot that is as good as anybody’s in the league.”
Sounds like someone who should be making a contribution. But as any player will tell you, it’s tough to score from the press box, which is where Wisniewski has been parked since he skated in the regular season finale against Arizona.
Wisniewski has drawn praise for his patience and willingness to work with the team’s young blueliners, but now it’s time for him to draw in.
Clayton Stoner’s been serviceable as the sixth D, a solid if largely unskilled option who brings a physical game and can handle PK duty. There was no reason to shake up the lineup when the team was winning, but the man was skating under a black cloud on Tuesday night. He inexplicably abandoned his check on Andrew Shaw a moment before the pesky Chicago forward opened the scoring on the power play. A dangerous crosscheck on Marcus Kruger had Stoner in the box when Marian Hossa made it 2–0. And he abandoned the front of the net to chase Shaw in the third OT, leaving Kruger alone to hammer home the game winner.
Stoner’s delivered above and beyond his paygrade all season, but it’s time for a rest. Wisniewski deserves his shot.
• Jakob Silfverberg had a rough go of it in Game 2, going –20 in shot attempts for/against at even strength. It looked like a combination of problems: bad reads, missed coverages, bad bounces. But let’s face it: When you’ve got a tough defensive assignment—Silfverberg’s unit was up against the Jonathan Toews line most of the night—you’re going to lose a few battles along the way. Based on what we’ve seen from him so far in a breakout playoff performance, expect a strong bounceback from him tonight.
The numbers game
• Tampa Bay boasts five of the top eight scorers in the playoffs: Tyler Johnson (18 points), Nikita Kucherov (16), Alex Killorn (14), Steven Stamkos (14) and Ondrej Palat (13). Johnson, with four game-winning goals, and Kucherov (3) rank first and second respectively in that category. They have a ways to go to break Brad Richards’ NHL postseason record of seven deciders in 2004.
• Triplets winger Kucherov is now the second player in Lightning franchise history to score multiple overtime goals during the same playoff year (the other: Martin St. Louis, two in ’04 when Tampa Bay won its first Stanley Cup), the third to do it for the Bolts during a career (St. Louis three times; Richards twice), and third in NHL history to accomplish it in the same playoff year before age 22 (the others: Sabres forward Danny Gare, 21, in 1976; Canadiens forward Claude Lemieux, 20, in 1986). In Game 1 of Tampa Bay’s second round series vs. Montreal, Kucherov became the youngest player (21 years 318 days) in Lightning history to score an overtime goal in postseason play.
• The Lightning are now the first team to score at least six goals in consecutive games during the final two rounds of a playoff season since Sidney Crosby’s 2009 Penguins, and the first to do it in two straight games against the Rangers since the Capitals in the 1990 the Patrick Division finals.
• On Tuesday night, it seemed like a sure thing that Mike Babcock would be the next coach of the Sabres. That he ended up choosing the Maple Leafs instead is a huge blow to Buffalo.
• Now that they’ve been left at the altar, who should the Sabres cozy up to next?
• After nearly three years without a captain, the Blue Jackets sewed the C on the sweater of this man. An excellent choice.
• Wayne Gretzky says Connor McDavid could be the next ... Wayne Gretzky?