Game 7 win can show that Ducks are more than a good regular-season team

Game 7 win can show that Ducks are more than a good regular-season team
Blackhawks right wing Andrew Shaw watches his shot beat Ducks goaltender Frederik Andersen in the third period of Game 6 on Wednesday night in Chicago. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Ryan Getzlaf played this game many times before, near his childhood home in Regina, Canada.

"That's where you learned to play, where we loved to play, was on our street," the Ducks captain said.

Cam Fowler played this game many times too, on the concrete floor of his basement in Farmington, Mich.

"I'd throw one of my buddies in net and I'd say, 'Ten seconds left, breakaway, Game 7,' " the Ducks defenseman said. "If I missed, I'd do it over again until I scored."


The Ducks are hoping for a do-over of their recent Game 7 experiences when they face the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at Honda Center in the climax of a wildly entertaining Western Conference final.


The winner will play for the Stanley Cup, starting Wednesday. The loser will carry the regrets that go with working so hard for so long and falling short of reaching the goal set during those long-ago street hockey and basement battles.


"I don't think it's about Xs and O's anymore. I think it's about who wants it more and who is ready to outcompete the guy across from him," Ducks center Ryan Kesler said Friday. "Whoever that is, is going to win the game."


The Blackhawks lost to the Kings in overtime of Game 7 of the West finals last spring, an especially bitter blow at home.

The Ducks fell to Detroit in seven games in the first round of the playoffs in 2013 and to the Kings in the second round last season, both at home after building 3-2 series leads, the same lead they had in this series until the Blackhawks pulled off a thorough 5-2 victory Wednesday in Chicago.

This is the Ducks' chance to redirect their history, to be more than the good regular-season team they've been the past few seasons; to be known for playing their best when the pressure is worst. To deliver, they'll have to impose their will on a team that has gotten bigger clutch performances from its leaders than the Ducks have gotten from theirs, a telling point so far.

Getzlaf, who accurately described his Game 6 performance as terrible, said the Ducks plan to be less tentative Saturday than they were Wednesday and play their game instead of allowing the Blackhawks to set the tone.

That's a start, but will it be enough?

Goaltender Frederik Andersen — who has given up 13 goals on 90 shots the last three games — has said he's not tired, but he has played more minutes than ever before. The same is true of young defensemen Sami Vatanen and Hampus Lindholm, who are pillars of the Ducks' future but are making mistakes that suggest they're worn down now.

Right wing Corey Perry has been scoreless the last two games but must have an impact Saturday.

"I think we learned our lesson the other night," he said. "We've got to play on our toes. We were waiting for something to happen last game. Eventually it did, and we were on the wrong side of it."

Ducks players are a combined 7-29 in Game 7s. Led by Brad Richards' 7-0 mark, the Blackhawks are 29-35, though as Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau tartly said of Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville: "He's lost two out of the last three Game 7s, hasn't he?"

True, but Quenneville won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013, and this is Boudreau's first venture to the conference final. His Game 7 coaching record is 1-5.

The Ducks acquired Kesler last summer to be the difference at times such as this; to bring his bark and his bite to back up his two-way skills. They will need all of that when he renews his battle with center Jonathan Toews, who will have scoring threat Patrick Kane on his right wing for more than the occasional turns they played together the last two games.

For the Blackhawks, Saturday's game is a chance to stay together as a group a little longer before salary-cap considerations lead to significant changes. It won't be the massive clean-out they experienced after their 2010 triumph, but they're likely to shed a core player.

It's also an opportunity to avenge the loss to the Kings that ended their reign as Cup champions.

"You can still remember a little bit of it, kind of understand that we don't want to have that feeling come this way," MVP candidate Duncan Keith said. "And we want to make sure we do our best to try to get through this time."

The Ducks can get through if they're as forceful and calm as they were during their best stretches, when they were immovable around the net, physical all over the ice and opportunistic.

Like the Blackhawks, the Ducks face roster changes this summer for financial reasons. Changing their reputation is in their own hands now.

Twitter: @helenenothelen