Blackhawks impressive in series-opening victory
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About a half-hour after the Blackhawks played a nearly perfect game against the Kings on Saturday at the UC, Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman stood with Duncan Keith under the white board in the home team's dressing room.
Generally regarded as the best coach in NHL history, Bowman seemed to be asking as much as directing, as the two pointed to spots in the Hawks' zone and discussed their breakout.
Maybe Bowman was just impressed. Either way, he should have been.
With the exception of failing to get pucks to the net when opportunities were there — which is pretty much a Hawks trademark — the NHL's No. 1 seed really looked like it in taking down the Kings 2-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.
It's crucial because the Kings haven't lost a game at home since Bob Pulford was a child, and the Hawks very much need to hold serve in Chicago.
"It's something we talk about, trying to have good breakouts," Keith said. "It helps a lot when our forwards do a good job coming back supporting us, allowing us to make those short plays.
"L.A. is a good forechecking team. They got a lot of big guys that get in there hard. It's not easy."
The Hawks made it look pretty easy from start to finish, giving up few good scoring chances 5-on-5. They played with an impressive poise in their own end that they haven't previously displayed in the postseason, looking completely confident and in control. Gone were the nerves of the previous series.
And the precious few times they had breakdowns, Corey Crawford was terrific, giving up just the one goal that Dave Bolland shot off Justin Williams.
"That's pretty close to as clean a game as we can play," Crawford said, beaming about the team's effort in front of him. "Our transition on defense and offense was great. I just think we played a great hockey game."
They did, but they are also aware of what happened after they beat Detroit in Game 1 of the last series. They came back in Game 2 and played perhaps their worst game of the season.
"I don't think we're gonna do that again," Bolland said. "We maybe got a little ahead of ourselves there. We know we have to stay on our game."
Though the Kings outhit the Hawks on Saturday, they did not punish with their customary ferocity. They also failed to take away space in the neutral zone and just inside their own blueline the way they usually do, and certainly not with the conviction of the San Jose series.
"They're big and they hit hard and we have to be ready next game," said Bolland, who delivered the game's biggest hit, on Mike Richards, in the final minutes. "I don't think there'll be as much room out there tomorrow. They play a tight game and they're not gonna give us much."
The Hawks were shaking their heads quite a bit the first 30 minutes as they controlled play and had a huge advantage in shots, including 17-2 in the first period, but anything Quick can see, he's going to swallow.
Finally, at 12:29 of the second, the Hawks caught the Kings in transition as Michal Handzus found Patrick Sharp in stride on the breakout. Sharp carried it over the Kings' line, dropped it to Johnny Oduya and then instead of being a passenger, Sharp went right to the net with his stick on the ice and fired a rebound into a wide-open net to tie the game.
"Got out of our end clean and attacked on the rush," Sharp said. "Johnny Oduya made a great play to activate and jump up. That's something that every team works on in practice, shoot off that pad and go to the net for the rebound. I was fortunate it came right to me."
About four minutes later — after another terrible Hawks power play in which they passed up several chances to get pucks on net with traffic — a broken play and pass by Bryan Bickell set up a point shot by Keith and a Marian Hossa tip-in past a screened Quick for a 2-1 Hawks lead.
"He's a good goalie. We all know that," Sharp said. "He makes saves when he sees the puck (and) when he doesn't see the puck. Any time you can get those second and third chances, that's the idea."
And while the Hawks got production from their top six, the Kings got almost no pressure on Crawford from their skill guys — except on a third-period power play, when Crawford turned away several good opportunities.
"I think the two guys that scored for them are going to score goals," said Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter, with the standard Sutter honesty. "We have guys that have to score goals. That's how close it will be."
It will be close and Los Angeles will be very good at home. That makes Game 2 essential for the Hawks and just as big as Game 1.
But if the Hawks play Sunday night as they did Saturday afternoon, it's the Kings who will be nervous.
•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.
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