ANAHEIM, Calif. — Two key points in the Western Conference playoff race will be up for grabs when the Anaheim Ducks host the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday afternoon at Honda Center.
Anaheim (32-21-12), which holds the final wild-card spot in the West, is 5-1-1 in its last seven games — a streak that started with a 3-2 victory on Feb. 15 in Chicago.
The Ducks posted a 4-2 home victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night. John Gibson, who missed three complete games after he suffered a leg injury against Vegas on Feb. 19, made 34 saves. He has 23 wins this season.
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The Blackhawks (28-29-8), who are out of playoff contention, defeated the Kings 5-3 in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon. The Blackhawks allowed three consecutive second-period goals after scoring first before pouring in four in the third period. Anton Forsberg was in net, making 29 saves.
The Ducks’ lineup features two new players. Jason Chimera came to the team in a trade from the New York Islanders, and Chris Kelly was signed as a free agent after winning an Olympic bronze medal while serving as captain for Team Canada. Against the Blue Jackets, the two played on the fourth line with Antoine Vermette, and the unit produced five of the team’s 35 shots on goal.
Rakell, who leads the team with 26 goals and 53 points, has seven points in the last five games after producing a goal and an assist on Friday.
The Ducks boast the No. 5 penalty-killing unit in the NHL after going 19 of 19 in their last six games while yielding only one power-play goal in 30 chances during the past 10 games. Anaheim has been short-handed more than any other team.
Chicago’s power play is among the league’s worst, but it delivered two goals with the man advantage versus Los Angeles — the first time it had more than one power-play goal in 18 games.
“It doesn’t matter who scores goals, whether it’s our power play (or) across our lineup,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’ve got guys who can contribute offensively, and I think everyone wants to go out there and play with confidence and have fun. I think when you win games like we did tonight, it’s fun. You carry that confidence as a group going into the next game.”
Anaheim is dangerous offensively when killing penalties. Andrew Cogliano scored short-handed versus the Blue Jackets, and Josh Manson scored right after bursting out of the penalty box at the end of the same Columbus power play.
The Ducks are tied with the Florida Panthers and the Buffalo Sabres with nine short-handed goals.
Manson’s goal was the game-winner.
“(The penalty kill) has been a strong suit of ours over the last little bit. Whenever you can get one like that, it’s easier also to win,” Cogliano said.
Cogliano’s short-handed goal was his 15th with Anaheim as he trails only Paul Kariya (16) in franchise history. Cogliano has 18 in his career.
“Obviously when you win the special teams game, you have a very good chance of winning the game,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “Though we didn’t deliver on the power play, our penalty killing kept them off the board, and that was a big turning point, momentum-wise in the hockey game, when we get a (short-handed goal).
“Then we followed up with another one. Two goals made the difference in the hockey game, turned everything in our favor.”
The Blackhawks got four goals in the last 9:12 of the third period, the last into the empty net.
“It felt really good to come from behind to win that one,” said Vinnie Hinostroza, who scored the tying goal. “Being in the locker room, everyone’s excited for tomorrow, come back and start the game out how we finished that one.
“Any time you can win a game, it’s definitely a good feeling, and it gets the juices flowing for the boys, but to come from behind like that, it’s even more exciting and just gives us more momentum going into tomorrow.”
Against Anaheim’s quick-strike offense, Chicago needs to guard against turnovers. Two of Los Angeles’ goals were on giveaways.
Chicago needs a good effort in net Sunday. Jean-Francois Berube will likely play the second game of a back-to-back situation, and hopes to improve on his 3.74 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
The Ducks host Washington on Tuesday. The Blackhawks play at Colorado that same evening.