ANAHEIM — There are some prime cuts of beef on the menu for this Western Conference Final indeed, with names like Jonathan Toews, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrick Kane and Ryan Kesler.
Every once in a while, though, a plate of pasta catches your eye.
Despite all the star power, the best line on the ice in Game 1 of this series was Andrew Cogliano and Kyle Palmieri with centre Nate Thompson.
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“Yeah,” said Cogliano, chuckling. “Start talking about Palmy (Kyle Palmieri) and Thommer (Nate Thompson) and Silvy (Jakob Silfverberg). They (Chicago) have four lines that play, and three really skilled lines that can score at any time, so it needs to be guys like myself and guys in the lower end of the lineup that need to play like we can.”
They say a Duck is always working harder under the water than the eye can see, and clearly Anaheim’s depth players were churning away Sunday in a 4-1 Anaheim win. Chicago defenceman Duncan Keith posted a minus-3, much owing to the game-high 28:25 of ice time he logged, while the only Blackhawk goal came unassisted by Brad Richards, a breakaway gifted to him on a Francois Beauchemin blunder late in the second period.
Thompson, meanwhile, had a goal and an assist, while Palmieri — who has been in head coach Bruce Boudreau’s doghouse at times this spring — rifled home the game’s second goal after an elongated shift in the ‘Hawks zone.
“We had a pretty good night,” admitted Thompson, an Anchorage, Alaska native who was drafted in the sixth round by Boston, then wound his way through the Islanders and Lightning organizations before landing here in Disneyland. “We wanted to make sure we were good defensively, but at the same time, it's the playoffs and third and fourth lines have to make a difference, too.
“Sometimes first and second lines kind of cancel each other out. We did a good job on the forecheck, creating havoc down there and burying opportunities when we had a chance.”
Chicago had by far the best scoring chances through 40 minutes, but needed Richards’ breakaway goal only to trail 2-1 after 40 minutes.
“When they got a chance they buried it, and that made it tougher chasing the game,” Richards said.
Alas, the rabbit beat the tortoise in this one, as Thompson scored with 7:55 to play to push Game 1 out of reach. Silfverberg got credited with an empty-netter that Toews appeared to direct into his own net, but by then it was academic. If there were any doubts whether the Ducks could play with Chicago — or more acutely, if Danish goalie Frederik Andersen could handle Chicago’s offensive onslaught — they were well answered Sunday afternoon in SoCal.
“When you’re with him on a day-to-day basis,” Palmieri said, “you don’t (doubt Andersen). He’s a very calm, confident guy. He’s not a guy who’s diving all over the place, but when he did have to dive all over the place, especially on that Kane save early on in the game, it was huge for us.”
Andersen’s lunging paddle save on Kane early in the first period — a save you’ve no doubt seen many times already — was a game-changer. Chicago scores there and they’re ahead and confident. Instead, the Blackhawks trailed 1-0 after a first period in which they outshot Anaheim 16-7.
“Being down 1-0 after one was a tough spot to be in,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, whose team is coming of a sweep of Minnesota in Round 2. “We hadn’t been behind in the last four games.”
Anaheim hasn’t trailed many games either this spring. The Ducks are now 9-1 in the playoffs — the last team left in the NHL playoffs with just one loss — and with amazing depth plus the kind of goaltending Andersen is giving them, who knows where this thing ends. Anaheim was the best third-period team in the league during the regular season and have has outscored opponents 17-3 in the final frame this spring.
They were the better team in the final 20 minutes Sunday to be sure, despite the fact Chicago was supposed to be the team that was pressing. Said wonder-kid Hampus Lindholm, arguably the best 21-year-old defenceman in the game today, “We can play much better than that.”
“I just felt like we have a lot of levels to get better,” he added. “I’m looking forward to the second game.”
The hockey in Game 1 was exquisite. If it goes up from here, the Stanley Cup Final won’t have a chance.