The Ducks are 7-1 at home this postseason, but 0-2 in Game 7s at home to close the last two seasons.
Last season’s loss, a 6-2 rout against the Kings in the conference semifinals, was the building point from which General Manager Bob Murray constructed this roster, making it a tougher, more experienced team that won nine of its first 10 playoff games.
Now, on the heels of Chicago’s convincing 5-2 victory in Game 6 at United Center on Wednesday, comes the Ducks’ ultimate test as the Tampa Bay Lightning await the winner, with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.
If they win tonight, the Ducks possess home-ice advantage over the Lightning.
“We just want to win tonight, and then we’ll go from there,” Ducks center Nate Thompson said of the possibility of reuniting in the final against the team he played for last season.
Additionally, there’s hope the overall power-play numbers (Chicago has had 22 man-advantages to Anaheim’s 14) will balance out.
Kesler and his linemates Jakob Silfverberg and Matt Beleskey will be charged with keeping Chicago’s expected top line that includes center Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in check. Those two have combined for six goals this series.
“We feel good about that matchup,” Beleskey said. “Game’s at home. We’ll play tight on them, limit their opportunities.”
Beleskey said there’s a feeling his team was strengthened by the past painful losses.
“We’ve been in this situation the last two years – Game 7s,” he said. “It hasn’t gone our way, but we’ve learned and I think we’re ready to go tonight.
“What you always hope for after a loss is assessing what you did wrong, try to change it. In the playoffs, you don’t have time to think about losses. So we’ve moved on, and we’re focused on what we have to do to be successful.”
Boudreau shifted around players on his bottom two lines, moving left wing Jiri Sekac to the third line with Thompson and Andrew Cogliano while inserting veteran Tomas Fleischmann (5-0 in the playoffs) to the fourth line with Rakell and Kyle Palmieri, with Emerson Etem back to the bench after a Game 6 appearance.
Boudreau said Fleischmann “knows what to do in these situations” and was a minor-league playoff MVP playing for the coach in Hershey, Pa.
“I like to play in Game 7s, who doesn’t?” Fleischmann said. “My job is to bring some energy and create something for myself or our guys – create some momentum for our side. We’ve played well all playoffs. If we just do our job, we’ll do well.”
Said Boudreau: “Who couldn’t be ready for this game? It’s the seventh game against the same team, not a lot of changing going on.
“We’ll be ready. They’ll be ready. Let’s go at it.”