And so we have a race. In spite of an NHL-record 24-game points streak to start the NHL season, the Chicago Blackhawks still have the Anaheim Ducks fully in their rearview mirror after the Ducks’ dramatic 4-2 in Anaheim Wednesday night.
Although the loss might have been disappointing for the Blackhawks, they continue to lead the Ducks by three points at the top of both the Western Conference and overall standings, even though the Ducks have a game in hand. For the Ducks, though, Wednesday’s win was a happening. The largest crowd to ever see a Ducks game -- 17,610, which surpassed even crowds that saw the Ducks win a Stanley Cup in 2007 -- was caught up in the buzz that surrounded the clash of the NHL’s two best teams. According to Elias Sports Bureau, no two teams with winning percentages as high as the Ducks and Blackhawks boasted before the game had ever met in an NHL game after teams had played at least 25 games.
The Honda Center faithful were not to be disappointed.
Although the Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the third period thanks to inspired play by Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, who scored a short-handed goal, the Ducks scored twice in 64 seconds as the game was winding down to take a 3-2 lead before icing the victory with an empty-net goal. The win was the Ducks’ franchise record 13th straight at home.
Each team was without top players. Patrick Sharp continues to rehab a shoulder injury for the Blackhawks and Marian Hossa wasn’t able to go, with an upper body injury. Meanwhile, the Ducks were without former MVP and goal-scoring champ Corey Perry, who was serving the last of a four-game suspension for a hit on Minnesota’s Jason Zucker. But it was the Ducks’ other big-contract, big-name player, Ryan Getzlaf, who fought off a nasty case of the flu to provide the offensive spark as he set up both key third-period goals. Both Getzlaf and Perry signed eight-year contract extensions recently.
Wednesday’s game marked the 14th time this season that the Ducks have rallied from a deficit to win this season. They are also 5-2-0 in games in which they trail after two periods.
The two teams won’t have to wait long to renew the face-to-face battle for top spot, as the Ducks will head to Chicago a week from Friday, although in between they have twin dates with Detroit and one with San Jose.
There are no guarantees, of course, that owning home-ice advantage means anything when the playoffs begin at the end of April. Los Angeles ended up winning its first Stanley Cup coming out of the eighth seed last spring. But if at some point these two teams ended up facing off in the Western Conference finals, their records suggest that these points will be crucial. The teams are a combined 24-2-1 at home and, given the drama of the first two games (the Ducks beat Chicago in a shootout during the Blackhawks’ streak), it’s the kind of matchup that fans everywhere would be clamoring to see.