By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Chicago Blackhawks passed a huge test Wednesday night when they went into the Honda Center and handed the Western Conference-leading Anaheim Ducks a 2-0 defeat.
Here are the particulars that make this game noteworthy:
-- Corey Crawford was brilliant as he recorded his first shutout of the year.
-- Jonathan Toews put the puck in the net, and that's a relief for the Blackhawks. It was Toews' second goal in the last 11 games.
-- Marian Hossa dangled and scored a brilliant game-winning goal early in the second period.
The Blackhawks matched the Ducks' speed and had more than enough tenacity to stand up to their physical play.
It was a good win for the Blackhawks, one that they will draw confidence from if they happen to meet the Ducks in the Western Conference Finals. However, you don't have to be Stan Bowman or Joel Quenneville to know that the Ducks team that was on the ice last night was not at its best, and the team they are likely to see in the spring will be much better.
The Ducks are going through a slump in what is regularly considered the dog days of the season. After dominating on home ice for the first three-plus months of the season, the Ducks have lost five of their last seven home games.
Bruce Boudreau's team had been quite consistent, but the Ducks are having a tough time putting the puck in the net recently. They have been shut out twice in their last three games, and that's truly flukish.
These two teams are almost certainly going to battle it out for first place and home-ice advantage in the Western Conference once the Olympics conclude. While the Blackhawks drew to within one point of the Ducks with their victory, Chicago's tendency to lose games that go past the 60-minute mark is going to work in Anaheim's favor.
If the two teams are tied in points at the end of the year, the Ducks would have the advantage because they have more victories than the Blackhawks. All the one-point efforts that have been produced when Chicago has lost in overtime or a shootout have been costly in the win total. Anaheim has five more wins than the Blackhawks, and that's not likely to change by the end of the season unless the Ducks' current slump is quite prolonged.
The Blackhawks' offensive capabilities seem to give them a bit of an edge on the Ducks. Chicago can count on Toews, Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad for offense from its forwards, while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook provide support from the back end.
The Ducks don't have the same kind of depth when it comes to offensive firepower. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry are in the league's first rank of scorers, while Nick Bonino has been fairly surprising this year. However, once you get past those three, the Ducks don't have a lot of dependable scoring.
Teemu Selanne is taking one last lap around the NHL before he calls it a career, and Saku Koivu appears to be in the same boat. Andrew Cogliano and Cam Fowler have also been good, but it would take quite a leap of faith for Boudreau to have legitimate confidence in them.
When the Ducks are at their best, they are a tenacious checking team with a heavy dose of physical nastiness. The Blackhawks have demonstrated they can play that kind of game, but their preferred game plan is a fast-skating game that allows their skills to outshine that of their foes.
The Ducks have been slightly better defensively this season, giving up 16 fewer goals in the same number (59) of games. However, there's almost no difference between Anaheim goaltender Jonas Hiller and Chicago's Crawford. Hiller has a 24-9-4 record with a 2.35 goals-against mark and a .915 save percentage, while Crawford is 22-8-10, with a 2.36 GAA and a .916 save percentage.
In the final evaluation, the Blackhawks are going to try to put their talent and skill on display, while the Ducks want to show off their strength and speed.
Unless either team makes a key acquisition prior to the trade deadline, the advantage stays with the Blackhawks because they have two Stanley Cups in the last four years, and they have demonstrated they know how to come up with their best effort when it matters most.
Boudreau, recognized as one of the best coaches in the league, has never seen any of his team get past the second round of the playoffs.
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