CHICAGO -- The phrases “Team to beat” and “measuring stick” have been often used by players and coaches at the United Center for much of the past season and a half.
The difference on Thursday was those phrases were being spoken by the Chicago Blackhawks, not about them. With the Anaheim Ducks coming to town for a game on Friday, the Blackhawks find themselves in the unfamiliar spot of no longer being the league’s most revered team.
The Ducks are riding an eight-game win streak and have won 18 of their last 19 games. They lead the NHL with 77 points (36-8-5 record). The Blackhawks are second with 71 points (30-8-11).
“It’s a little different,” Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad said after practice on Thursday. “Regardless, in here, we’re thinking the same of our group. We know we’re a good team.
“As you can see, they’re first in the NHL, and they’re getting more media coverage and things like that. They’re a great team. They were great least year regardless of being on top or not. I think we’re all excited for the game and looking forward to the challenge.”
The Blackhawks were in unison calling Friday’s game an important one. No one tried to downplay it.
“Anaheim is the team to beat right now,” Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “They have been dominating so far this season. They got a lot of offensive skill. We got to play a real [good] defensive game if we’re going to beat them.”
The Ducks’ offense has especially been potent during their successful run over the last few months. They have scored five or more goals in nine of their last 18 wins. They’re coming off a 9-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday. The Ducks have outscored opponents 170-120 this season.
“It’s a great test for us, a good measuring stick,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “They’re on a great run here. Commend them on how they’re playing. But game in, game out, they’re a hard team to play against. They got a lot of guys contributing, and everyone is a part of it.”
The Ducks have fared better at home than on the road this season, but they have had success in Chicago the past two seasons. They are 20-0-2 at home and 16-8-3 on the road this season. They won 3-2 in a shootout in Chicago on Dec. 6 and won regulation and shootout games in Chicago last season.
Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg was confident his team would be ready for the task.
“Yeah, it’s a big game, obviously a top team,” Versteeg said. “They’re on a streak like we were last year, minus myself. They’re a big team and they’re really top heavy with [Ryan] Getzlaf and [Corey] Perry, and those guys who can make plays with the best to them. Tomorrow is a challenge. We’re excited about it. This team always seems to rise to the occasions.”