The Anaheim Ducks had the opportunity Wednesday night to finish off the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center, allowing them to skip the drama of a game seven and giving them time to rest as the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers duel it out in their own game seven. Instead, they got thoroughly out played and were altogether flat.
The Blackhawks were the aggressors from the first drop of the puck, and only when their backs were completely against the wall did the Ducks show any sign of sustained offense. Anaheim seemed bottled up in its own zone for vast stretches of the game, yet the outcome might have been different had these two individuals elevated their games, which they will absolutely have to do in game seven:
1. Frederik Andersen
Before the series started, some idiot wrote (that would be me!) that Andersen would ultimately give the Ducks the edge they needed . While he looked good-ish in the first four games, he’s been as close to irrelevant as you can get in games five and six.
In game five he allowed some goals that surely made Rick DiPietro smile in a dark room somewhere. In game five, while he wasn’t nearly as bad (perhaps less DiPietro and more Bryzgalov), it’s tough to argue that he had any positive influence on the outcome of the game. Brandon Saad’s five-hole goal, while obviously a hard and accurate shot, was stoppable. Even watching on television, the energy sapped from the Ducks on that goal and pumped into the Blackhawks “Chelsea Dagger” driven frenzy was palpable.
Andersen has to be lights out in game seven, and not just for the short term ramifications that winning the Conference Final would entail. Remember, the Ducks still have a promising goaltender in John Gibson waiting for a chance to shine, and if Andersen is to go quietly into the night, this summer will once again turn into a debate as to which goaltender deserves to be the starter. In short, game seven will be the most important game of Andersen’s young career.
2. Ryan Getzlaf
By his own admittance, Getzlaf was downright terrible in game six. At times it felt as if he was simply trying to do too much with the puck, looking for the finesse play in the wrong situations. At other times, it felt as if he was too lackadaisical, carelessly sending backhands across the zone while breaking out.
Granted, Getzlaf is one of the very best backhand passers in the league. Watching him closely, it almost would appear that he prefers making passes on his backhand rather than his forehand. There’s a time and a place for that, and in game six he was clearly incapable of identifying either. It feels weird criticizing the passing play of one of the league’s four or five best set up men (Crosby, Backstom, Thornton, Giroux…?), but it is entirely warranted given his game six performance.
There’s secretly a lot on the line for Getzlaf as well. He just turned 30 this month, and you have to wonder if the Ducks will ever have such a wide open road to the Cup Final ever again. Keep in mind, the Kings will surely be back next year, and the Sharks can’t suck forever (especially if Doug Wilson is calling the shots. Oh wait…). If there was ever a wave of perfect circumstances for the Anaheim captain and his team, this has to be it.
So without sounding too dramatic…game seven means about as much for the Ducks as the draft lottery meant to the Sabres (too soon?). Okay, maybe not that much, but something like that. Anaheim has afforded itself a golden opportunity to advance to the Cup Final, but they can’t make it there unless Getzlaf and Andersen step up. In a league that is all too unforgiving, these opportunities can come and go in a flash, and it’s up to them as well as the rest of the team to make good on it.