Despite Strong Playoffs, Ducks Only Go as Far as Frederik Andersen Takes Them

Steve Macfarlane@@MacfarlaneHKYFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2015

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There were plenty of Chicago Blackhawks fans in attendance at the Honda Center for Game 7 of the Western Conference Final against the hometown Anaheim Ducks.

So when the Ducks faithful razzed Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford with a mock chant, the sound of mocking their own starter often followed.

“Annnderseeeeen, Annnnderseeeeen.”

By the end of the night, some Ducks fans might have joined in.

The 5-3 loss to the Blackhawks in the winner-take-all contest to advance to the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t all Frederik Andersen’s fault.

While it’s a wildly unpopular and all-too-common practice to blame the goalie for any and all losses in the NHL, Andersen definitely deserves some of the blame for his Ducks missing out on two opportunities to eliminate the Blackhawks after taking a 3-2 series lead.

Ultimately, he proved to be Unsteady Freddie.

Take the eventual series-winning goal into evidence. Having made an initial stop on Brad Richards, Andersen went to sweep the puck toward the boards but sent it right to a charging Marian Hossa. Hossa needed only to redirect the puck with his right skate for the Hawks’ fourth goal of the game—the game winner. The series winner.

It was quickly reviewed but determined Hossa didn’t make a distinct kicking motion, prompting the line of the night from CBC play-by-play man Paul Romaniuk.

“No kicking motion,” Romaniuk said. “But a kick to the gut of the Ducks.”

You can say that again.

When the team needed him to be a factor in shutting down some of the most dangerous players in the league, Andersen faded.

Hey, you might too if you were suiting up against stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith,  Hossa and Brent Seabrook. Still, Andersen’s numbers grew worse as the series grew longer. And when the goaltender is your weakest link, it takes an epic effort from the rest of the group to overcome adversity.

The Ducks didn’t get that, either.

In Games 1, 2 and 3, Andersen made 112 saves and allowed five goals for a .957 save percentage. Over the final four contests, he made 98 saves and allowed 18 goals for an .845 save percentage.

In Game 7, the Ducks netminder allowed three goals on the first eight shots he faced. The fourth came on the Hawks’ 13th directed on goal. Andersen finished the contest with 21 saves on 26 attempts and an .808 save percentage.

His counterpart, Crawford, who was shaky early in the playoffs but steadily improved his play over the long haul, faced more rubber in Game 7 and made 35 of 38 saves.

The Fourth Period's Dennis Bernstein tweeted a quote from Hawks coach Joel Quenneville that showed the kind of growth seen by Crawford.

Things went the other way for Andersen. It was the fourth straight game in which he allowed four or more goals against and posted sub-.900 save percentages. And they all came after three of his best performances of the playoffs.

Even though the Ducks ultimately won Game 5 in overtime, his confidence really seemed to evaporate late in the game when he was beat twice by Toews to cough up a two-goal lead in the final two minutes of regulation.

The second was inexcusable—a sharp-angled offering from the extended goal line from the Hawks captain that made its way through Andersen’s legs.

Toews scored two more in Game 7, and while neither was of the ugly variety, stopping either one of them could have made the difference for a Ducks team looking for a rallying point.

The third goal of the night came on a beautiful touch pass from Kane to Brandon Saad, the former freezing Andersen with a quick fake before dishing it across the ice. Andersen was so utterly fooled and on his knees so early that he couldn’t even bother to dig in a skate edge to push for a cross-crease save attempt.

He realized he was defeated. He looked it much of the night.

The Ducks have nearly all the tools for a Stanley Cup: star players in Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, gritty veterans like Ryan Kesler, young players like Jacob Silfverberg on the brink of becoming stellar NHL scorers, a talented and deep group of defensemen who can skate with anyone and move the puck extremely well, a dangerous power-play unit that connected on more than 26 percent of its playoff chances.

But do they have a difference-maker in goal?

At 25 years old and with just 23 games of NHL playoff experience, Andersen has a 14-7-1 record and .909 save percentage.

Not exactly a stellar statistic package.

With some shaky moments throughout the second-round series against the Calgary Flames, there were times when the media perched high above the benches peeked down to see if Bruce Boudreau would give Andersen the hook. It never came.

At times Boudreau's patience was rewarded.

Now, it will be questioned.

“Throughout the playoffs, he was outstanding,” Boudreau told reporters after the game, as seen on the Ducks' website. It will be a question I’ll ask myself. 'Did he get tired? Did Chicago get much better? Were they getting better looks and getting better chances to score on him?' That, I don’t know. I mean, I know we gave up 18 goals in the last four games, and we didn’t give up 18 goals in the whole series, in the previous series.

“But I’m not laying any blame on Freddie. He kept us in so many games this year, it was ridiculous. He played his heart out, too. Sometimes things just don’t work out.

The same may well be said about Andersen’s future as the Ducks' starter. At least for the next little while before the summer months erase the sting of having come so close to the Stanley Cup Final.

A journey that they may not have been able to take without him, but also one he wasn’t able to help them finish.

All statistics via NHL.com

Steve Macfarlane has covered the NHL for more than a decade, including seven seasons following the Calgary Flames for the Calgary Sun. Follow him on Twitter at @macfarlaneHKY.

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