Stanley Cup Playoffs 2013: Analyzing the Western Conference Final After Game 1

Derek WolffContributor IIIJune 2, 2013

The Blackhawks were about as dominant as possible in a 2-1 Game 1 victory.
The Blackhawks were about as dominant as possible in a 2-1 Game 1 victory.Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the defending-champion Los Angeles Kings 2-1 on home ice early on Saturday evening, and no one was surprised.

After all, the President's Trophy winners were 6-1 at home in the United Center coming into Saturday's tilt while the Kings, road warriors in 2012 en route to winning the Stanley Cup, came into town a dismal 1-5 on the road this year.

That doesn't bode well for a team that's lacking home-ice advantage in this series. But what was far worse for Los Angeles was the way they were manhandled in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final by Chicago.

Sure, a 2-1 loss sounds like a hard-fought, close game on paper. But in reality, it was anything but.

With both teams coming off of Game 7 wins over division rivals and with the Kings having an added day of rest over Chicago, the visitors scored the first goal of the series just over 14 minutes into the first period. The goal came off of the stick of Justin Williams, his fifth of the postseason, after Corey Crawford mishandled the puck behind the net and Dave Bolland couldn't clear it to the corner.

Williams' fluke goal gave the Kings their only lead of the game and came on just their second (and last) shot of the first period. That stat was concerning for the Kings, who were thoroughly outplayed from puck drop to the end of the game, where the Blackhawks played keep-away in the Kings' defensive zone with the home team on the power play. Content to let the clock run out on Jonathan Quick, who was forced to stay in his net.

The Blackhawks out-shot the Kings 17-2 in the first period, which Los Angeles would, on paper, win. But no one was buying Los Angeles winning the game after that period and those doubts were reinforced in the second.

The Blackhawks came out firing again, peppering Jonathan Quick with shot after shot. The Kings' netminder was up to the task for a while but finally gave up a rebound that Patrick Sharp cashed in on at 12:29 in the second period. Four minutes later, it was Marian Hossa with a tip-in that beat Quick to give the Blackhawks the 2-1 lead. It was all they would need.

It's easy to say that everything was as advertised in Game 1. The Hawks' star players stepped up, with Sharp and Hossa continuing to pad their goal totals this postseason with eight and six, respectively. Quick was stellar in the contest, stopping 34 of 36 shots to be the tough-luck loser. 

But it's what didn't go as advertised for either team that made the difference in Game 1 and will make the difference in the series. And that gives me reason to believe that this series won't go as long as some people think it will. Neither of these thoughts bodes well for Los Angeles.

For a basic rundown of exactly what went wrong for the Kings, it's a longer list than I'm certain Darryl Sutter is comfortable with. Maybe that's why he always seems to be scowling.

The Kings were vastly out-skated.

The Blackhawks are the best skating team in the NHL and proved that again on Saturday. When they flip the switch to "on", there's not a better puck-possession team and they skated circles around Los Angeles for the first two periods. 

Chicago responded and matched Los Angeles in physical play.

One of the keys to the series before Game 1 was that Los Angeles was the more physical team and would use that to their advantage. Despite Dustin Brown throwing bodies around left and right, the Blackhawks responded in tune. In total, there were 82 hits between the teams in Game 1, with L.A. on top slightly at 44-38. But the home side made their presence felt, with huge hits like the one Bolland delivered on Mike Richards to knock the latter out of the game.

The Blackhawks continued to feed off of their momentum.

Home-ice advantage aside, the Blackhawks continued to feed off of their momentum from the Detroit series and used it to perfection in Game 1 against L.A. The two sides played very different seven-game series in the Western Conference Semi-Finals and it has produced different results. For the Kings, it was about survival against a California rival where all they had to do was win at home four times. They never trailed in it.

But Chicago's series win produced a much-greater galvanising effect. Down 3-1 in the Detroit series, the Blackhawks rallied in their first bout with adversity. With the Game 1 victory over Los Angeles, Chicago has won four in a row and doesn't show any signs of stopping.

It was a complete victory. 

Chicago dominated from start to finish, out-shooting the Kings by double digits at 36-22. Crawford's first period gaffe enabled him to pick up his play, stopping his final 20 shots while his teammates continued to break out of the defensive zone and get chance after chance off on Quick.

The Blackhawks, lead by master-thief Jonathan Toews took the puck away from the Kings 18 times. Their time and space in the offensive zone was severely limited by the Blackhawks relentless backcheck, while Chicago won races in Los Angeles' zone and got traffic to the net. This resulted in both goals and combined with the other factors, that was enough for the Game 1 Chicago win.

But perhaps the most daunting factor is that Chicago might already have Quick solved.

Yes, Quick again was masterful in turning away the bulk of the shots the Blackhawks threw at him, but the scoring chances and the opportunities became evident after a first period full of long-range, feeler shots. By putting bodies in front, shooting for the pads and winning races to the net, it seems like the Blackhawks already know what they need to do to beat the Conn Smythe Award winner in Game 2 and beyond.

That's trouble for a team that seemingly cannot skate with the Blackhawks. Now, I'm not saying that the Kings won't make adjustments or that the series is over, because it's far from it. But Chicago has that extra spring in their step right now and L.A. is going to have to dig deep to match it. That might not be possible.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are still late to the Blackhawks scoring party this postseason, and even if they don't light the lamp much in this series, Chicago still has enough offensive weapons to move on.

The Kings don't possess a neutralizing, two-way, shutdown player like Detroit did in Henrik Zetterberg. Bryan Bickell's emergence this postseason is reminiscent of Dustin Byfuglien's play for Chicago during the 2010 Cup run. The big winger is making his presence known, and skated on the top line on Saturday alongside Toews and Hossa.

The Blackhawks showed in Game 1 that they have a ton of weapons and I only see them getting better after a convincing victory by following it up with another one in Game 2.

What do you think-do the Kings have a shot to steal a game in tonight's tilt with Chicago? Or will it be more of the same with the Blackhawks heading to L.A. up 2-0?