Blackhawks face huge tests this weekend vs. Ducks, Bruins
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff reporter January 16, 2014 4:18PM
Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf, left, and Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews vie for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Anaheim, Calif., Wednesday, March 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Updated: January 17, 2014 9:27PM
Nick Leddy remembers what it was like during the Blackhawks’ 24-game point streak last season — that feeling of invincibility that comes when everything bounces in your favor, and nothing is insurmountable. The Hawks stepped on the ice every night not just wanting to win, but expecting to win.
“A lot of things were going our way,” Leddy said.
The Anaheim Ducks know the feeling. The league’s top team has won eight in a row and a remarkable 18 of 19 to seize control of the Western Conference race. And while the Hawks have been scuffling to salvage points in many games lately, Friday’s showdown at the United Center pits the top two teams in the NHL — the reigning champs against the next big thing.
Only Anaheim could come in and overshadow Sunday’s looming Stanley Cup Final rematch against the Boston Bruins.
“I think Anaheim is the team to beat right now,” defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “They’ve been dominating here so far this season.”
It starts up front with one of the few lines that can rival the Hawks’ top line of Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. The Ducks’ top trio is not only extremely skilled, it’s extremely big — Corey Perry is 6-3 with 27 goals and 26 assists, Ryan Getzlaf is 6-4 with 23 goals and 32 assists, and Dustin Penner is 6-4 with 11 goals and 15 assists.
“They’ve got that big first line,” Leddy said. “I mean, it’s one thing to have a lot of skill, but to have the size as an added factor has got to be great. And it just makes them that much harder to defend.”
Throw in an improved defense and the red-hot play of Jonas Hiller in goal — he has won 14 straight games — and it’s little wonder the Pacific Division-leading Ducks are six points ahead of the Hawks in the conference race.
In fact, Anaheim’s run — the Ducks are also 20-0-2 at home — has the Hawks sounding more like the underdog contender than the reigning champion.
“It’s a great test for us,” coach Joel Quenneville said, “good measuring stick.”
It’s also a good chance for the Hawks to snap out of their midseason doldrums, with two playoff-like atmospheres in a row coming up. Quenneville had a longer, more spirited practice than usual Thursday, one that included a lot of one-on-one and two-on-two drills. Against the Ducks, the Hawks will need to win as many of those puck battles as possible.
“They’re on a high; hopefully, we can bring them to our barn and push them around,” said the struggling Bryan Bickell, who needs a spark more than anyone else in the Hawks’ room. “They’re running so high, they’re creeping away. We need to bring them back down to where we are and catch up to them. It’s a great test for us. Hopefully, we can get over that hump.”