By Adrian Dater
Chicago Blackhawks fans had every reason to feel down after the first period of Saturday’s Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at the United Center.
The Hawks had a 17-2 edge in shots on goal, including the first nine of the game. Even so, Kings netminder Jonathan Quick had hung yet another zero on the scoreboard while the defending Stanley Cup champions managed to put one past Chicago counterpart Corey Crawford for a 1-0 lead. But there was one statistic that had to be of some comfort: 1-5, the road record of the Kings in these playoffs.
Make it 1-6.
Winners of 10 of 11 playoff road games last year, the Kings lost 2-1 to Chicago in the opening chapter of this best-of-seven series, with Game 2 on Sunday in Chicago. Here are some thoughts and observations from Saturday's game:
• Second-period goals by Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa got it done for the ‘Hawks, and Crawford atoned for an early misplay of the puck that gave L.A. its only goal.
• As great as Quick has been in the playoffs again this year -- and as good as he was for most of Game 1 -- he was not without fault in what was overall a lackluster effort by the Kings. Quick kicked a huge rebound out to Sharp on the tying goal at 12:29 of the second period. Johnny Oduya put a low shot to the far post while skating down the left side, and Quick knocked the puck right up the middle to Sharp’s oncoming stick.
The game-winner was a Mona Lisa beauty of a tip by Hossa, 16:22 into the second. Duncan Keith -- tremendous for Chicago, probably the game’s best player -- slipped down from the left point and fired a shot on net that Hossa, who essentially sliced the puck in half, turned into a downdraft shot that eluded Quick’s glove.
• By game’s end, things got nasty, with L.A.’s Mike Richards taking a huge hit from Chicago’s Dave Bolland. Richards looked woozy going back to the bench. Kings captain Dustin Brown then responded with a huge hit on his Chicago counterpart, Jonathan Toews. With Game 2 coming so quick, look for the nastiness to increase.
• Kings coach Darryl Sutter mixed up his lines a lot, including the curious insertion of Brad Richardson at right wing on a line with Anze Kopitar at center and Kyle Clifford on the other side. Kopitar started the game with Brown and Justin Williams. No matter what he tries lately, Sutter just can’t seem to get Kopitar going. The Kings' top center now has a paltry two goals in 14 postseason games. Worse, he’s not getting many good chances; entering Game 1, he had just 24 shots on net in the postseason.
In the final four minutes of the game, Sutter went back to his original lines, but to no avail.
• Dustin Penner’s second-period elbowing penalty on Niklas Hjalmarsson was his second minor of the game, and the kind of brain-dead lack of discipline the Kings can’t afford against these guys. Penner clearly got his left elbow up and gave Hjalmarsson a WWE-style jab to the head on the glass. That slowed the Kings down even more, after they’d just allowed the tying goal.
• Keith might have saved a goal in the first minute of the third period, blocking Penner’s point-blank chance.
• Richards passed up a brilliant scoring chance with about 14 minutes left in the third, choosing to make a back pass instead of taking a 10-footer from the right side. Instead, Richards mishandled the puck and the potential tying goal dribbled away.
• Chicago played a nearly perfect game when it came to discipline -- until Nick Leddy took a tripping minor on Brown at 7:19 of the third. But it wasn’t Leddy’s fault. Leddy had to take the trip because Michael Frolik gave a puck away to Brown at the blue line. Prior to that, Chicago had allowed the Kings only 16 seconds of power-play time.
• Despite the loss, the Kings have not allowed three or more goals in their last 34 postseason games -- an NHL record.
• Chicago started to sit back in the third period and got into some bad habits as a result, such as icing the puck too much. You can’t be overconfident with run-and-gun hockey with a lead in the playoffs, but the Blackhawks create problems for themselves when they play things too safe. That’s what coach Joel Quenneville seemed to be saying to his team when he called a timeout with 5:11 left after another icing. Chicago’s Marcus Kruger won a big defensive zone faceoff against Mike Richards when play resumed.
• The Kings were too sloppy with the puck to win the game. Chicago was credited with 18 takeaways to six for L.A.
• Drew Doughty, the Kings' star defenseman, will need to be better in Game 2. He was minus-2 with just one shot. • Toews had a quiet day offensively, but he was strong on the puck and made a lot of good decision with it on things like dump-ins and chip-outs. He hasn’t had a spectacular playoffs -- he's just been quietly reliable.