A day after the Ducks washed away the pain of last season's Game 7 second-round playoff series loss to the Kings and gave Coach Bruce Boudreau his first chance to coach in a conference final, the focus turned to the next opponent, the
Six of Boudreau's other first-place teams failed to advance past the second round, but the coach said he spotted his wife and two sons jumping, hugging and pointing at him Sunday night after Corey Perry scored 2 minutes 26 seconds into overtime of Game 5 to eliminate the Calgary Flames.
"The instant it happened, I felt really good. ... It was a pretty nice win, so I think I'm allowed five minutes of joy," Boudreau said. "But a half hour later, I was thinking about Chicago.
"It's a new experience for me. Every round is tougher. To be able to win, you have to be better than you were before. Upgrade your play."
Numbers-wise, that challenge of being better seems impossible. The Ducks won eight of nine games to send Winnipeg and Calgary away. They've scored a league-high 35 goals, boasted an NHL-best power-play scoring rate (31%) and have dominated the third period by a 16-3 scoring margin.
Boudreau said that Chicago is absolutely a more stringent test. The Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup twice in the last five seasons and have appeared in three consecutive Western Conference finals.
Chicago center Jonathan Toews, forward Patrick Kane, defenseman Duncan Keith and a wealth of additional talent are coming off a second-round sweep of Minnesota, and open the series at
"We're dealing with a team that knows how to win in the playoffs, has the experience and talent to back it up," Boudreau said. "They are arguably the fastest group of forwards, and you add Keith and [Johnny] Oduya and some of those on the back end, and they're probably the fastest team in the NHL."
That said, with Matt Beleskey scoring in five consecutive games against Calgary, Perry leading all postseason players in points and goalie Frederik Andersen playing at his best, the top-seeded Ducks will answer forcefully in their bid to play in a third Cup final.
Boudreau said that although Chicago's pedigree is daunting, he'll point out to his players how human the Blackhawks appear on video, and claims the Ducks' improved grit, maturity and talent can win this series.
"There's only four teams left," Boudreau said. "They're good and we know what to expect. We know what playoff hockey is about, too. We know we're better than when we played them in the regular season."
The second line of center Ryan Kesler is expected to be matched with the Toews line, but Boudreau said he hasn't established matchups or lineups.
He credited the Ducks' attention to special-teams detail for sharper power-play performance and penalty killing, and even pointed to the unkind past as a factor in this playoff run.
"The experience of losing, losing in a tough way last year, Game 7 to our rival, has helped motivate the group," Boudreau said of his team that has rallied to four postseason victories.
"It's a group of guys who believe they can win whenever they have an opportunity. Belief is important."