The Chicago Blackhawks will be playing for their third Stanley Cup in six seasons.
That most-impressive run in the salary-cap era continued with a masterful Game 7 performance against the Ducks this evening in Anaheim. The Blackhawks used a dominant first period as a springboard and were hardly threatened after that, beating the Ducks, 5-3, at Honda Center.
They won the best-of-seven series after trailing 3-2 in the Western Conference finals. Their opponent in the Stanley Cup Final will be the Tampa Bay Lightning, which knocked off the New York Rangers in seven games on Friday.
The Stanley Cup Final will open with Game 1 in Tampa on Wednesday.
For the Ducks, this has been a familiar script for the franchise and their fan base. They’ve lost in Game 7 in three consecutive postseasons, falling to the Detroit Red Wings in 2013, the Kings in 2014 and now the Blackhawks. All three Game 7s were at Honda Center.
In fact, the Ducks have lost their last four Game 7s. Before the three on home ice, they lost at Detroit in 2009.
Anaheim Coach Bruce Boudreau is 1-6 in Game 7s, a combination of his record with the Ducks and the Washington Capitals. Chicago is 11-4 in elimination games since 2009.
As expected, they were sparked by their star players. Captain Jonathan Toews scored the game’s first two goals in the first period. Patrick Kane had three assists and Brad Richards added two assists, as did the tireless one, defenseman Duncan Keith.
Just when the Ducks seemed on the verge of making the final minutes slightly more interesting -- cutting their deficit to two goals in the third period -- the Blackhawks were able to extend their lead to three goals.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook scored on the power play at 13:22, making it 5-2. Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler had gone to the penalty box for hooking Marian Hossa.
This came less than two minutes after Ducks right wing Corey Perry scored his second goal of the series and 10th of the playoffs, pulling the Ducks to within 4-2.
Perry finished off a two-on-one breakaway, taking a pass from linemate Patrick Maroon. Captain Ryan Getzlaf had the secondary assist on the goal, his first point since Game 5.
The Ducks ended goalie Corey Crawford's bid for a Game 7 shutout with a goal late in the second period.
Center Ryan Kesler unleashed a terrific shot from deep in the left corner at a tough angle, beating Crawford above the right shoulder.
That cut Chicago's lead to 4-1 and the goal came during a four-on-four situation at 18:51. The assists went to Kesler's linemate Jakob Silfverberg and defenseman Francois Beauchemin.
Anaheim had 18 shots on goal to Chicago's 10 in the second period, taking more risks but with that came more odd-man rushes for the Blackhawks.
Another odd-man rush and another goal for the Blackhawks.
Marian Hossa made it 4-0 at 13:45 of the second period but had to wait for a review after the goal. The puck went in off his right skate but the league's situation room ruled there was no distinct kicking motion.
The lone assist went to Brad Richards, who has two assists in two periods. Richards, by the way, came into the game with a 7-0 record in Game 7s, achieved when he was with the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Barring a stunning Ducks comeback, Richards is a little more than one period away from 8-0 in Game 7s.
There was one way to sum up Chicago's third goal.
For Blackhawk fans: Saad! For Ducks fans: Sad.
Forward Brandon Saad made it 3-0 for Chicago at 1:18 of the second period. It was Chicago's first shot on goal of the period and seventh of the game.
The assists went to Patrick Kane and Johnny Oduya. Kane now has two assists.
Chicago just had the chance to take a 4-0 lead but Frederik Andersen stopped Kane, who broke free and went in alone at 5:57.
Blackhawks 2, Ducks 0 (end of first period)
The experienced Ducks suffered through a serious case of Game 7 jitters as Chicago took a 2-0 lead after one period.
There were two goals from captain Jonathan Toews, who was merely cementing his money status, showing leadership at the most crucial junctures.
Chicago dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 69% of the draws in the first period. The Ducks' top two centers, Ryan Kesler and Ryan Getzlaf, were a combined three for nine in faceoffs.
You could say Jonathan Toews is settling in quite nicely at Honda Center.
He scored his second goal of the first period, giving the Blackhawks a 2-0 lead. This one was a long-range shot from above the right circle, at 11:55, coming with Chicago on the power play. The Blackhawks went on the man advantage when Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg was sent off for hooking Brandon Saad at 11:08.
The assists on his goal went to Brad Richards and Duncan Keith.
Toews now has scored four goals in the last two periods he has played on the road.
And no, it hasn't become silent in the arena. There are plenty of vocal and happy Chicago fans on hand.
The Ducks had the early pressure, but Chicago got on the scoreboard first.
Naturally, the statement goal came from Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who was alone in front of Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen and converted his own rebound at 2:23 of the first period.
For Toews, it was his eighth goal of the playoffs. His two goals in Game 5 in the last two minutes of regulation forced overtime before the Ducks went on to win it.
After all, he is the man primarily responsible for the placement of an NHL franchise in Anaheim and massive growth of hockey in Southern California.
Now to the lineups: There will be one change for the Ducks. Forward Tomas Fleishmann (The Closer) is back in for Game 7 and forward Emerson Etem is out. Anaheim is 5-0 with Fleischmann in the lineup in the playoffs.
The starters for Chicago: Goalie Corey Crawford; defensemen Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson; forwards Brandon Saad, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Anaheim's starters: Goalie Frederik Andersen; defensemen Francois Beauchemin and Hampus Lindholm; forwards Matt Beleskey, Ryan Kesler and Jakob Silfverberg.
Game 7 ... what else would you expect in the Western Conference finals?
The Ducks, again, are one game from reaching the Stanley Cup Final. They led the series, 3-2, but lost on Wednesday night at Chicago. If they win, it would be their first appearance in the championship series since they won the Stanley Cup in 2007.
Waiting for the Ducks or the Blackhawks is the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning beat the New York Rangers, 2-0, in Game 7 on Friday night in the Eastern Conference Final.
Again, there will be Los Angeles Times coverage on twitter from columnist Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen), Lance Pugmire (@latimespugmire) and Lisa Dillman (reallisa). From the Chicago perspective: Tribune beat writer Chris Kuc (@ChrisKuc) and columnist David Haugh (@DavidHaugh).
Here are a few Game 7 stats to ponder before the puck drops. Chicago forward Brad Richards is 7-0 in Game 7s. He appeared in five with the New York Rangers and two with Tampa Bay.
The Ducks are 2-4 in Game 7s and have lost their last three, including the last two on home ice. They lost to the Kings in the second round in 2014, the Detroit Red Wings in 2013 and the Red Wings in 2009.
Chicago is 6-6 in Game 7s and have won just once in four Game 7s on the road. In 1965, they beat the Red Wings at Detroit in Game 7 in the semifinals.