CHICAGO – When Chicago Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery made the save of the night on Anaheim Ducks forward Daniel Winnik, and Patrick Kane went down to the other end of the ice and scored, Bruce Boudreau's thoughts weren't censored.
“That was a big one,” the Ducks 'coach said. “When you have lost four in a row, you go 'Ah, [crap].' ”
Going into Friday night, Boudreau's team hadn't won since the last time it faced Chicago.
“The way how we have played lately, there's not a lot of confidence,” right wing Teemu Selanne said.
But Boudreau opined earlier in the day that it doesn't take a team much to gain or lose confidence. “It's almost an overnight thing,” he said.
Overnight began Friday night. A 2-1 victory over the Blackhawks at United Center might be exactly what the Ducks needed to get their groove back.
In sweeping the season series against the top team in the Western Conference, Anaheim moved within three points of Chicago. But that wasn't the only benefit.
“I think we’ve proven something to ourselves that we can beat the best team in the league on any night,” forward Bobby Ryan said.
Even though Boudreau didn't want to assume that his Ducks were in the Blackhawks' heads, if these teams meet in the playoffs, it's hard for Chicago to glean positives from the regular season. Still, defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson doesn't want this to be the final meeting of the year.
“I hope we’re playing them in the playoffs,” Hjalmarsson said. “It would be fun. It’s been tight games every single game. We know we can play against these guys.”
In the visitors' locker room, Ducks players were saying they knew they could not just hang with the Blackhawks but beat them. And Friday night was the first time Anaheim didn't win a game against Chicago by coming from behind, showing it didn't have to be the same script each time.
Three games, six points. And the Blackhawks scrounged up just one.
“It means that we can play against the best when we're on top of our game and be competitive,” Boudreau said. “That's what I get out of it.”
In the short term, the Ducks' focus was to snap their losing streak at four. Losing can be tough to take, especially for a group that has enjoyed so much success this season.
Winning a game against anyone would have been nice, but Selanne said beating the Blackhawks was “what we needed right now.”
“I mean now it's like, 'OK, the monkey's off our back,' type thing,” Boudreau said. “I'm not saying it's completely off, but for a day-and-a-half, they're going to feel a lot better about themselves.”
Scoring with 2:08 left to silence 22,105 screaming fans at the arena nicknamed the “Madhouse on Madison” is an uplifting way to end a skid. Defenseman Sheldon Souray, who scored that game-winner, called goaltender Jonas Hiller the “star” and said the Ducks were happy to pick up two points and get out of Chicago with their slide over.
He's not making too much of a 3-0 record against the Blackhawks.
“They're a good team. It's good we have a little success against them in the regular season, and that's all it means,” Souray said. “We've got a lot of hockey left and everyone is chasing them, but we're really chasing them.”
The chase is on down the stretch, but the Ducks get to move on to their final 14 regular-season games with the confidence that they essentially own the Blackhawks. Trying to hold their own against other premier teams in the West is a challenge left unconquered.
But now the losing streak is over, and the attention can return to all the things the Ducks have done well.
“We're not out of the woods by any stretch as far as that goes because anybody can do anything once, but to do things consistently is a big deal,” Boudreau said. “At least they know in their mind that when they put their mind to it, they're a good hockey team and that the first 22 wins weren't a fluke.”
Far from a fluke, but as Boudreau learned when he coached the Washington Capitals to the Presidents' Trophy in 2009-10, regular-season dominance is no guarantee of playoff success.
Veteran players like Selanne understand that, so he considers going undefeated against the Blackhawks nothing more than a first step.
“It's just regular season,” Selanne said. “Our goal is to build the momentum to the playoffs, and it's a new season then.”
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