Chicago, New York and Montreal all clinched their second-round series in games where they were badly outshot and outplayed. And Chicago was up to those tricks again in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Western Conference final at United Center.
After a slow start, the Kings outshot Chicago 17-6 in the second period and appeared to find the legs many expected to go AWOL after playing Game 7 against the Ducks late Friday on the West Coast.
No matter. Chicago brushed off a disallowed goal early in the second period — and a potentially deflating L.A. goal shortly thereafter — with Duncan Keith’s third goal of the postseason. And when the Hawks got a great chance, they didn’t waste it the way the Kings did when Tyler Toffoli’s breakaway chance hit the post early in the third period. And with less than four minutes to go in that final frame, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews buried a perfect feed from Johnny Oduya to ice the game, keeping the Hawks stayed perfect on home ice.
"You’ve got to commend our players for not changing their approach in big games," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters after the game. "There’s always going to be adversity in the course of a game; you’re always going to lose momentum in the course of a game. Against a good team like that, you want to get it back as quick as you can, which I thought was a big point in today’s win."
Possession is an important and mostly dependable indicator of success in the NHL. But in the small sample size of this postseason, big-time goaltending and timely scoring have been just as telling.
Five Guys: All five Blackhawks touched the puck on Toews’ insurance goal late in the third period. Defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson started it with a poke check at the top of the circle in the Chicago zone. Forward Bryan Bickell took a hit to push the puck ahead to Marian Hossa. Hossa dropped it to defenseman Johnny Oduya, who waited until L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick was set to slip the puck across the Toews for a one-timer into the upper reaches of the net that gave the Hawks a 3-1 lead. Chicago’s skill is a marvel to watch in space.
Duncan Keith’s bad hop: The Blackhawks could have wilted when Toews’ apparent goal to put them up 2-0 was disallowed after an officials’ conference ruled he had made incidental contact with Quick before the puck crossed the line. Toffoli tied the game shortly thereafter and the Kings really applied the pressure, outshooting Chicago 17-6 in that second period. But Keith’s slapshot took a crazy bounce off Kings center Trevor Lewis’ stick and caromed off the ice and into the upper corner of the net for a 2-1 lead to restore order for Chicago with 8:06 to go in the period.
1. Marian Hossa, LW, Chicago: We’ve said this several times in the playoffs, but Hossa was the best player on the ice. He had two assists, he flattened L.A. captain Dustin Brown when Brown tried to run him behind the net and he may have made a goal-saving steal after defenseman Nick Leddy fell down and L.A. was headed for an odd-man rush.
2. Jonathan Toews, C, Chicago: We had a feeling Quenneville would match his top line against L.A.’s for defensive purposes, and that’s just what he did. And it worked. Toews and Hossa held Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik off the scoresheet while Toews put two pucks past Quick (though one goal was disallowed).
3. Corey Crawford, G, Chicago: Crawford outdueled Quick with 25 saves to improve upon his postseason-leading save percentage (.933) and goals-against average (1.90).
Jonathan Toews made the most of his time in front of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, scoring one goal which was disallowed on review followed by the final goal of the game, which counted.
Chicago 3, Los Angeles 1
Series: Chicago leads 1-0
Key stat: The Blackhawks have won seven straight home playoff games in a single postseason — the first time in franchise history that has happened. Chicago is 7-0 at United Center in these playoffs.
Key player: RW Tyler Toffoli, Los Angeles: Toffoli had a goal and narrowly missed two more, most notably slipping a backhand off the post after he beat Crawford on a breakaway. Toffoli was a matchup problem for Chicago on Sunday with four shots on goal.
What we learned: The guess here is that L.A. coach Darryl Sutter will try to get Kopitar and Gaborik as far away from Chicago’s top two defensive forwards as possible when the series shifts back. Toews helped hold Kopitar off the stat sheet for just the second time in 15 postseason games, and Hossa helped hold Gaborik silent after Gaborik scored six times in the previous series. Toews and Hossa, who combined for three points, will both garner votes for the Selke Award (like Kopitar) as the league’s best defensive forward this season — Toews and Kopitar are finalists. If Chicago keeps winning that battle, Chicago will win the war. L.A. had a difficult assignment in this one. The Kings had to play less than 48 hours after dispatching the Ducks in a second straight seven-game series. L.A. will get a chance to rest and regroup before Wednesday’s Game 2, but this notion that the Kings perform better with their backs against the wall — they rallied from 3-0 and 3-2 series deficits in the first two rounds — carries a significant flaw. L.A. is playing the defending champs now; the Kings aren’t playing San Jose or Anaheim. That puts a premium on Game 2 for L.A., lest it fall into a situation where it has to beat Chicago in four of five games to advance. The Blackhawks should also get gritty forward Andrew Shaw back sometime this week, further bolstering their depth and lessening what appeared to be an advantage for L.A. in Game 1.
Next game: Game 2, Wednesday at Chicago, 8 p.m. ET
Final thought: That sound you don’t hear coming from Montreal is an entire fan base holding its breath. The Canadiens’ best player, goalie Carey Price, may not play in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final on Monday night after Rangers forward Chris Kreider crashed into him on a partial breakaway attempt in Game 1.
Price was pulled after two periods, but coach Michel Therrien said at the time it was to spark his lackluster team, which lost 7-2 in Game 1. However, Therrien was noncommittal on Price’s status when asked about it Sunday. Price’s teammates were not.
"I don’t think Kreider ran him, but he didn’t do anything to avoid him,” Canadiens enforcer and former Ranger Brandon Prust told reporters covering the series. "He went skates up first, and he didn’t do anything to turn his body or minimize (contact). Whether it’s on purpose or accidental, he ran him pretty hard. Everybody thinks it was accidental, but we call it accidentally on purpose."
If Price can’t go, the complexion of this series changes dramatically. Montreal is already in a 1-0 series hole and backup goalie Peter Budaj has never won a playoff game in seven appearances with an .843 save percentage and a 5.10 goals against average.