Although the Western Conference Final promises to be a long, drawn-out series, the Chicago Blackhawks got the early advantage by notching a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 on Sunday.
Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews scored for the Blackhawks, but Corey Crawford was the star of the game in net. The goaltender stopped 25 of the 26 shots he faced, including 16 saves in the second period.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick was not at his best for the Kings while allowing three goals to get by him in the opening game of the series. Tyler Toffoli got the goal for Los Angeles, but it was clearly not enough to pull out the road win.
The opening game continued a notable trend between these two teams, via ESPN Stats & Info:
Blackhawks win, are 4-0 vs Kings this season and 7-0 all-time at home against the Kings in the playoffs— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 18, 2014
Los Angeles was aggressive early, but the first score of the game came after Alec Martinez of the Kings was called for a roughing penalty. Although the road team almost killed the penalty, Saad finally got the puck into the back of the net on a deflection from Nick Leddy.
Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review broke down what the forward had to do to earn the goal:
Brandon Saad digs puck out of corner, goes hard to net, parks in front on power play, tips point shot for goal. It's not about being local.— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) May 18, 2014
Chicago held on to the 1-0 lead through the first period with both goaltenders coming up strong at different times.
Early in the second period, it seemed as though the Blackhawks had gone up 2-0. Toews was credited for a goal that actually went off the skate of the defender, but it was eventually waved off after a review.
Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun-Times conceded that it was likely goalie interference, although this is not something that should be changed after a review:
I tend to think that was indeed goalie interference. But it's not supposed to be reviewable. Should have been a goal if it's not waved off.— Mark Lazerus (@MarkLazerus) May 18, 2014
Mike Harrington of The Buffalo News was much less understanding about the situation:
You can't call goalie interference on a replay. They didn't call it on the ice. That's an embarrassment, NHL.— Mike Harrington (@BNHarrington) May 18, 2014
Meanwhile, the Kings took advantage of the turn in momentum and quickly used it to even up the score. Toffoli notched the team's first and only goal of the game on a pass from Tanner Pearson to make it 1-1 at 4:35 into the second period.
Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times noted the quick turn of events:
your basic pivotal moments here...goal disallowed, toffoli redirects Pearson pass to tie game at 1-1 at 4:35 of second— Helene Elliott (@helenenothelen) May 18, 2014
However, the Blackhawks did not allow the momentum swing to affect them too much, as they regained the lead a few minutes later. Saad and Marcus Kruger passed the puck around to the point, where Duncan Keith was able to fire a shot past Quick, as described by David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune:
Duncan Keith beats Quick with a laser that hit Kings C Lewis' stick and ricocheted past...With 8:06 left, Hawks lead 2-1.— David Haugh (@DavidHaugh) May 18, 2014
Once again, Chicago went into the intermission with a one-goal lead.
The Blackhawks started the third period by killing penalties on Niklas Hjalmarsson and then Michal Rozsival, but they also were unable to take advantage of a power play when Justin Williams was called for elbowing.
Finally, the home team netted its third goal of the day on a three-on-one. Johnny Oduya provided a nice pass for Toews, who then fired it into the back of the net.
Pete Jensen of NHL.com noted the effort on display from the team's captain:
Know why that was a 3-on-1? Toews outskated Kopitar to add to odd-man rush. Then he sealed the deal. Captain fantastic. #Blackhawks— Pete Jensen (@NHLJensen) May 18, 2014
Los Angeles continued to battle for the final few minutes, but the squad could not get anything else past Crawford as the Blackhawks came away with the 3-1 victory.
No matter who came away with the opening win, fans can be certain that this will remain an exciting series from start to finish. While these teams did not have dominant regular seasons, they are the last two Stanley Cup winners and both are looking to continue their good fortune in the playoffs.
Chicago head coach Joel Quenneville recently praised his team while also noting that he is ready for a tough fight, via Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times:
We like our team. We have the four-line rotation that’s solid. Our “D” is the exact same “D” we had last year. We have the same goalie we had last year. I think we’re at the same level we were at last year. But we like the momentum we have. We like the challenge that’s ahead of us.
But L.A. is going to be a tough opponent. I know we talked about underestimating Minnesota going into that series. There’s no way we’d think of underestimating [the Kings].
With both teams playing their best hockey of the season at this point, this series very well could be going the distance. The action will continue on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET in Game 2.
If the Kings do not want to go down 0-2, they need to come through with a better effort the next time out. They'll have their work cut out for them on the road after Chicago established the early momentum.
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