To be the champs you must beat the champs. The Chicago Blackhawks got off to a good start last night as they edged the reigning Stanley Cup Champions 2-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at the United Center. Chicago leads the series 1-0 and the two teams will face off again tonight at 8 PM ET at the Mad House on Madison. The Presidents’ Trophy winners will need to play another great game if they want to fly to Los Angles with a 2-0 series lead. With that being said, here are some keys for the Blackhawks in Game 2.
Corey Crawford and Jonathan Quick have been two of the best goalies in the playoffs and they didn’t disappoint in Game 1. Crawford rebounded nicely from his first period gaff that resulted in King’s winger Justin William’s fifth goal of the postseason. The Montreal native stopped 21 of LA’s 22 shots on goal and came win some big saves in the 3rd period. Quick was his usual playoff self making one incredible save after the next. He posted a 94.4 save percentage in a losing effort. The Blackhawks outshot the Kings 17-2 in the first period and still saw themselves starring at a 1-0 deficit. Quick was the only reason the kings were even in that game. The 2012 Conn Symthe winner is good enough to win this series by himself when he’s dominating in between the pipes. Expect Game 2 to be another low scoring affair dictated by the two goaltenders.
The Blackhawks special teams performed pretty well last night despite a 0-4 effort on the power play. Chicago managed six shots on goal with man advantage but the most important power play came with 1:41 left in regulation. Kings winger Jeff Carter got called for a tripping penalty on Chicago center Dave Bolland. Therefore, the Blackhawks were on the power play when Kings head coach Darryl Sutter was looking to pull his goalie in final minutes of the game. The power play unit managed to hold the puck in the Kings zone for over a minute giving Los Angeles no chance at a last minute comeback.
Chicago’s penalty kill was superb not allowing a goal, again. The President Trophy winners have been dominant on the penalty kill this postseason only allowing one goal while successfully killing 97.7% of their penalties. The penalty kill unit has been a key component in the Blackhawks playoff run.
The Kings are expected to come out with a more physical game plan that resembles Detroit’s strategy versus the Blackhawks in round 2. Chicago had a lot of open ice and scoring chances in Game 1 and defending champs aren’t going to let that happen again. They’ll be playing a sense of desperation and more urgency not wanting to go down 0-2 heading back to Los Angeles. The hits were about even in Game 1; 44 for LA and 38 for CHI. Captain Dustin Brown and the Kings defense will be looking to make life difficult for Chicago star forwards Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Jonathan Toews by being more aggressive on the forecheck and backcheck.
It’s a little odd to see two teams playing in back-to-back games during the postseason. The Kings and Blackhawks can thank the Rolling Stones concert at the United Center for the scheduling abnormality. It shouldn’t affect one team more than the other but it something to keep an eye on. The quick turnaround could increase fatigue levels or hamper players with nagging injuries.
Overall anticipate another tightly contested battle in Game 2. The physical play should increase but the game will be decided by each team’s the star goaltenders and special teams units.