Blackhawks shake off tough call on way to Game 1 win
CHICAGO -- Since the start of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks have found themselves in a few tough spots in 71 games of make-or-break hockey.
They have conquered the majority of the obstacles placed in their path, winning the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013. But other challenges have gotten the better of them, leaving them full of regrets and disappointment.
Whether success or failure was found, each of those experiences has built the character of the team that took the ice Sunday afternoon to play the Los Angeles Kings in the first game of the Western Conference Final.
So it should have come as little surprise when the Blackhawks were able to shake off a controversial call and the change in momentum it produced in favor of the Kings in the second period of the game, which Chicago eventually won 3-1 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.
"When you have to do something, you do it," said Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith, who put his money where his mouth is by scoring the winning goal. "If you just let it bother you, then it's obviously going to affect the way we play. There was nothing we could do, so just move on and try to play the right way."
What had the Blackhawks in not only a snit but at an early crossroads in this rematch of the 2013 Western Conference Final? It was a controversial call that denied them a 2-0 lead early in the second period.
Jonathan Toews, the captain, made a power move to the Los Angeles net and was corralled into the path of goaltender Jonathan Quick by defenseman Slava Voynov. The puck and Toews arrived at Quick at the same time. Quick stopped the puck, but not Toews, who bowled over the goalie and landed on top of him. While that was happening, Voynov struck the puck with his skate and pushed it into the net.
The referee pointed at the goal, the red light flashed rhythmically, and the Blackhawks on the ice raised their sticks in celebration. As Toews tried to disengage from Quick, the Chicago goal song started blaring, and the raucous crowd at United Center was in full furor.
The celebrations explain why everybody missed the officials gathering by the official scorer and discussing what had just happened. When the referee skated to the center-ice circle, he commanded attention. When he explained the reason for the no-goal ruling -- incidental contact on Quick by Toews -- the crowd went ballistic. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville joined them, seething with anger as he petitioned for the redress of his grievances from his perch atop the bench.
"I just took it to the net, kind of lost it when I got to the short post," Toews said. "Obviously, the puck was in, the guys were celebrating. I'm not sure too much interference. I haven't seen the play. Obviously, it happened pretty fast. I think when it comes down to it, it was disappointing because of, you know, how the play was called on the ice."
Not too long after play resumed, the Kings scored the tying goal, jump-starting a domination that would extend for almost the entire period. The Kings got an odd-man break, and Tyler Toffoli redirected a Tanner Pearson pass by Chicago goalie Corey Crawford at 4:35. Instead of holding a 2-0 lead in the game, the Blackhawks were facing a 1-1 tie and a team with a renewed sense of confidence.
It was a recipe for disaster if the Blackhawks allowed it to become one.
"There's swings where it goes back and forth, and the [momentum] switches, but we have to just stick with it, keep our shifts short, stay simple and not give them much," Chicago forward Bryan Bickell said.
Less than eight minutes after Los Angeles tied it, Chicago took the lead for good, scoring on a counterattack at 11:54. The Kings mismanaged the puck in the neutral zone, and Marcus Kruger claimed the turnover and fed it to Saad, who got it to Keith at the point. His shot bounced off two different Kings and deflected high past Quick's glove.
It was one of six shots Chicago managed in the second period, when the Kings had 17 shots, as well as the momentum of that reversed call. Yet, the Blackhawks headed to the dressing room for the second intermission with a 2-1 lead, a tell-tale sign of a championship pedigree.
In the third, Chicago held the fort, thanks in large part to the brilliance of Crawford, who is playing with the confidence forged during the run to last season's championship.
In the dying minutes of the game, Chicago counterattacked again. The Kings were pressing for the equalizer, but the Blackhawks found themselves sprung for a 3-on-1. Defenseman Johnny Oduya, as the fulcrum of the attack, made a fancy head deke and then passed the other way to Toews, who scored without controversy this time.
Just like that, Chicago earned its seventh straight home-ice victory of these Stanley Cup Playoffs and maintained home-ice advantage heading into Game 2 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN).
"You [have] to commend our players for not changing their approach in big games," Quenneville said. "I think there's always going to be adversity in the course of a game; you're always going to lose momentum in the course of a game. Against a good team like that, you want to get it back as quick as you can, which I thought was a big point in today's win.
"I think our guys are very resilient and I think our top guys lead the charge in that area."