Hawks defenders outlast big, bad Ducks in punishing series
ANAHEIM -- Brent Seabrook sounded exhausted with every postgame breath he took, while the bright red blood of a fresh wound on the Blackhawks defenseman's chin told a story of this Western Conference Final all by itself.
The Hawks' top four defensemen played a ton of minutes and took a lot of punishment from the Anaheim Ducks in a grueling seven-game series they clinched with a 5-3 win Saturday night at the Honda Center.
They were supposed to crumble, tire out and have nothing left by the time Ducks were done with them in Game 7, but Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya simply refused to let it happen. They withstood the pain all series and were ultimately rewarded with another trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
"It was a battle," Seabrook said, exhaling with a sigh. "It was a tough series. They're a great team. Fast. "I think (Corey Crawford) did a great job tonight making some big saves early and keeping us in it. We knew they were going to come hard, but it was a fun game to play in."
The wound on his face, the result of a puck striking him there, didn't seem nearly as enjoyable as the sheer look of satisfaction on Seabrook's face. They've got another daunting series ahead against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but getting through the Ducks was something to honk about for at least the flight home.
The bigger, badder Ducks came into this series intent on inflicting pain. They smashed the Hawks' thinned out blue-liners, hoping to exploit Michal Rozsival's season-ending ankle fracture all the way to the Cup Final. It just didn't work.
The Hawks' top four defensemen, who played roughly 85 percent of the defense minutes in the series, again showed impressive grit in Game 7. They took more hits, played another massive amount of minutes and again weren't fazed by it.
"They were certainly key to our success this series," Patrick Sharp said. "Those four guys logged a lot of minutes. The overtime games aren't easy on anybody, especially them, and it it was a pretty special performance by all four of those guys.
The combined defensive effort by defensemen and goalie Corey Crawford not only frustrated the Ducks, but allowed the Hawks' wealth of offensive talent to build a 4-0 lead late in the second period on just 13 shots.
Just as other big, physical teams have found out in previous playoffs, you've got to out-play the Blackhawks and not just out-hit them. It's a strategy that backfired on the St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Philadelphia Flyers in the past, and now you can add the Ducks to the list of defeated brutes.
The Hawks might be humans, as Anaheim's Ryan Kesler pointed out the day before Game 5, but they endure pain and play the game like super humans when driven and focused. It's what allowed them to survive in this series, after coming within an overtime goal of making the Stanley Cup Final a year ago.
"Today's game is a great accomplishment, especially when teams are excited about playing you," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "That's just a testament to consistency and the way they prepare. I commend the guys that have been through it."