The Anaheim Ducks have been arguably the best team in the NHL this year. They finished the regular season with 51 wins – second most in the league– and began the playoffs 9-1, with the only loss coming on the road in overtime against Calgary.
“The Ducks have had a terrific season,” NHL Network analyst E.J. Hradek said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench. “To win the Stanley Cup, to me, is all about injuries ad match-ups. If you stay healthy and get good match-ups, that’s a huge plus. So their match-ups in the first two rounds have been terrific: Winnipeg and Calgary. Now, those two teams were great stories during the regular season, but they’re really not dynamic powerhouses that you would think (you would have to play in the conference finals). So they’ve been pretty fortunate, and they took full advantage of them. They swept Winnipeg, took Calgary (out in) five games and they came out and played well against Chicago in Game 1. They’re a good story. They’ve been finding ways to win.”
They didn’t, however, find a way to win Tuesday. The Ducks rallied back from a 2-0 deficit against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, but they lost 3-2 in triple overtime. Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa gave Chicago a 2-0 lead in the first period before Marcus Kruger netted the game-winner five periods later.
The series is now tied 1-1, with Game 3 slated for Thursday in Chicago. The Blackhawks, aiming for their third Stanley Cup championship in six years, could be in the midst of their final run with the core they have.
“This window on this particular group is going to close,” Hradek said. “They absolutely have to do some things to get the cap (under control). The new contracts that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews signed last summer, they go into effect starting this season and I believe it’s $10.5 million against the cap each. So the cap did not go up dramatically this year. In fact, we’re still waiting to get a number. We won’t get that number until after the Stanley Cup Final or during the Stanley Cup Final. But the bottom line is, they’re going to have to make some changes. They’re going to have to lose some salary, and Patrick Sharp is definitely one of the guys’ names that we’ve heard.”
The Blackhawks might also have to move Brent Seabrook, who is under contract for just one more season. Still, Chicago should have a good nucleus around which to build.
“They have what I call super-elites because Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook – these guys have just done everything you can do in their several years together in Chicago,” Hradek said. “It’s hard to ever bet against them. I think when you look at the lineup all the way through, 1-20, I think Anaheim is a deeper group, but I think that high-end group from Chicago – that top part of their lineup – those guys are so good and so talented and so elite. They’ve done it before. It’s hard to ever bet against them.”