By Brian Hamilton
CHICAGO – Joel Quenneville stood atop the Chicago Blackhawks bench most displeased, the coach's arms and necktie and gums all flapping at once. A second-period goal for his team had been disallowed after an extended video review, wiping out a potential 2-0 lead in Sunday's opening game of the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. Quenneville quite disagreed with the reversal, so he unloaded. He has had fits of pique before, earning a $25,000 fine for an inappropriate gesture while arguing a call during the first game of his team's first round series this year. But there was no crotch grab this time, only invective that required the covering of impressionable ears and eyes as he unleashed a cannonade of expletives, enough to fill a David Mamet script. The coach, who co-owns a colt named Midnight Hawk and is a devotee of the racing game, indeed behaved like a man convinced he knew horse-bleep when he saw it.
"Oh, yeah, we notice," Blackhawks winger Bryan Bickell said of his coach's rant. "We're frustrated at the same time, but he shows it a little more. It does kind of suck when you see a goal you think goes in and it doesn't count."
The rest of the defending Stanley Cup champions may have internalized their ire, but there was no mistaking the frustration and deflation in that moment, especially when a Los Angeles equalizer soon followed. That Chicago later emerged with a 3-1 victory was a testament to the Hawks' composure, because the opposition and the officials certainly tested it. Against a weary, beat-up Kings squad that had finished its previous series less than 48 hours earlier and arrived in town only the night before, the fresher Blackhawks simply could not afford to slip up on home ice to open this series. Yet the confusing Jonathan Toews no-goal sequence and a tying score by the Kings' Tyler Toffoli about a minute later nudged Chicago out of balance and threatened to alter the series.
But before the second period was done, the Blackhawks got a go-ahead score from a Duncan Keith bomb that deflected off a King's stick, a bit of karmic recompense. Chicago's defense subsequently clipped LA's attack – the No. 1 scoring offense in the playoffs at 3.21 goals per game – and blocked more shots in the third period (nine) than it allowed to get through to netminder Corey Crawford (six). By the time Toews blasted in a one-timer off an odd-man rush with a little less than four minutes to play, resolve had long since replaced resentment. It was a mature response by a championship team – that much was inarguable. "That's what it was all about, just trying to forget about it and not get too worked up about a call that didn't go our way," Toews said. "To add insult to injury, they came back and scored to tie it up. But that's where we did a good job forgetting about what happened and moving on and focusing on our game and not getting away from that."
Kings-Blackhawks Game 1 recap | Box Score | Series breakdown
The Blackhawks could be forgiven some bewilderment. On the disallowed goal in question, Toews took a cross-ice pass from defenseman Johnny Oduya and charged toward the net with his holding a 1-0 lead. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick stuffed the initial attempt, but a short rebound scooted out. At that point, Toews tumbled over Quick just as the puck deflected off the skate of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov and into the net. After the red light went on and the crowd belted out the requisite refrain of "Chelsea Dagger," the officials stuck the knife in and twisted it a bit.
The goal was waved off due to goaltender interference, which was curious, as it is not reviewable by rule. Then came more explanation via the NHL, and more dilated pupils. The review didn't involve the goal off Voynov's skate. After ruling it a goal on the ice, the officials apparently conferred and reversed their decision before heading to the video to determine if the first attempt by Toews had crossed the line. "The referee's original call on the ice was 'good goal' but a discussion between the on-ice officials resulted in a 'no goal' decision because Toews made incidental contact with Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick before the puck crossed the goal line," the league's statement read. "This is not a reviewable play therefore the decision on the ice stands - no goal and no penalty."
And did Quenneville buy the explanation he received at the time, for all that?
"No comment," he said.
His team's eventual bounce-back spoke for itself anyway.
Chicago has seen worse, down three games to one against Detroit during the 2013 postseason, and down two games to none against St. Louis in the first round. Had the Blackhawks failed to overcome this frustration, had they not airlifted themselves out of this particular danger zone, it would have been completely out of character for a team that has greeted disaster with barely discernible pulse rates for two postseasons running.
"We did a good job moving past that," Keith said. "You just have to. When you have to do something, you do it. If you let it bother you, it's obviously going to affect the way we play. Moving forward, there's nothing we can do. We just move on and try to play the right way."
Los Angeles, meanwhile, can be a bit irked with one that got away, but perhaps not disheartened.
An Alec Martinez roughing penalty that led to Chicago's first score was plain dumb. And Toffoli actually had a chance to tie the game early in the third period with a nifty forehand-backhand move on a breakaway, but the center banged his shot off the bottom of the post. But for the first five minutes or so when the fatigue showed at the end of some long shifts, heavy legs were no issue. The Kings played the Blackhawks just about even everywhere on the ice and had their chances, most notably while dominating a second period in which they outshot their hosts 17-6. This was not a room full of empty tanks.
Critically, the Kings now have two days to rest before Game 2 on Wednesday night. Defenseman Willie Mitchell returned to the lineup on Sunday after an eight-game absence, and that extra day between games can help others get right as well. Still, solving Crawford – who has surrendered only one goal in each of his last three games – will be the only way to beat the Blackhawks in their own building, where Chicago is undefeated during this postseason.
"One goal is not enough," Toffoli said. "We have to score more than one goal to win a game in the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks."
That was evident on a day when the Blackhawks had one erased from the scoreboard, when their coach went nuts, and their nerves went haywire for just a bit. The resolve that followed that episode on Sunday doesn't necessarily portend much for the rest of a series that promises to stuff every shift with importance. Without it, though, Chicago might not have won wn the one game it had no excuse for losing.
"A tough situation," Toews said. "But it's over now."