CHICAGO – With 19 games remaining in the regular season, one would think the Blackhawks are well on their way to securing the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
One would think that a record-setting 24-game point streak to start the season would have separated the Hawks in a league filled with so much parity.
One would think that leading the NHL in goals scored (100) and being tied for fewest goals allowed (62) would add up to a runaway lead.
One would be wrong.
This might sound a little bit quackers – um, crackers – but the Hawks will face a legitimate challenge for the top playoff seed in the Western Conference.
Here come the Ducks, no longer Mighty, but still mighty tough.
Today, the Hawks (24-2-3) will visit the Ducks (21-3-4) in a matchup that features the top two teams in the NHL, not to mention the conference. The Hawks have garnered 51 points this season, while the Ducks have earned 46 points in one fewer game.
OK, so the Ducks were named after a cheesy Disney movie from 1992 that featured acting giants such as Emilio Estevez and, uh, some other people. By the way, did you know that Goldberg the goaltender is skinny now and appeared in a Captain Morgan commercial?
Anyway. The real-life Ducks are tough.
It’s quite possible that the road to the Stanley Cup Final will pass through Anaheim.
“It should be a great contest,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville told reporters this week before his team headed to California. “I think it will be a very important two points.”
Against almost every other team, the Hawks have looked invincible. They have outscored their past two opponents by a margin of 13-3, and Hart Trophy candidate Patrick Kane has notched more points (6) in those two games than some fourth-line types collect in a season.
But this group from Anaheim isn’t exactly sitting Ducks.
While the Hawks have made history, earned a spot on the cover of Sports Illustrated and captured the attention of athletes such as LeBron James, the Ducks quietly have thrived. Led by coach Bruce Boudreau, they had a pair of six-game point streaks early in the season, and they have earned at least one point in 11 consecutive games entering today.
Not only that, but the Ducks have locked up two of their biggest stars to long-term contract extensions in the past couple of weeks.
On Monday, the Ducks announced an eight-year contract extension reportedly worth $69 million for Corey Perry, a 50-goal scorer two seasons ago. Perry’s signing followed that of team captain Ryan Getzlaf, who reportedly signed for eight years and $66 million.
Imagine what Kane and Jonathan Toews thought when they learned about those deals.
But lots of players earn money. Only a lucky few are able to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
The Hawks did so in 2010. The Ducks did so in 2007.
Both teams are hungry for more.
Take a good look, Hawks fans, because you might see these Ducks again come playoff time.
“They’ve got a lot of things going right for them,” Quenneville said. “They’re big and they protect the house well and offensively they’ve got a lot of different guys that can contribute.
“It will be a good matchup for us. We’ve got a little momentum ourselves.”
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.