The Blackhawks had the puck and the pace they wanted against the Kings in the first period of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. They managed a staggering 17-2 shot advantage. They trailed 1-0.
The Hawks tried shooting from everywhere, but couldn’t manage second chances. They tried moving the puck across the ice, but couldn’t go tape-to-tape. They tried holding the puck, but couldn’t outwait the aptly named Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
Any other ideas?
Uh, yeah. Get to the crease ahead of all that. “Net presence,’’ coach Joel Quenneville calls it, and his team figured it out in the second period.
Patrick Sharp charged down the slot to bang in Johnny Oduya’s rebound, and less than four minutes later, Marian Hossa already had camped in front when he redirected Duncan Keith’s slap shot to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead.
The Hawks needed their stars to come through. Class has to show when you step up in class.
The Hawks maintained their poise, but more importantly, they displayed a learning curve that has marked this team since before their 2010 Stanley Cup championship. The Hawks didn’t turn desperate. They got themselves organized and attacked smartly.
It’s their only chance against the best goalie in the playoffs, and it’s a great sign that it didn’t take a loss to do it.
But it wasn’t just Sharp and Hossa.
Duncan Keith drew an assist on the winning goal and was the best player on the ice. Showing jump, vision and great positioning, Keith led the Hawks in icetime and tied for the team lead with five shots.
The Kings outhit the Hawks, but the 44-38 difference wasn’t as great as you would expect from the preferred games of each team. More decisive was the Hawks’ resounding 18-6 advantage in takeaways, propelling their transition game with terrific puck pursuit.
In trying to protect a one-goal lead in the third period, the Hawks lost much of their aggressiveness and gave the Kings chances. But Corey Crawford wanted everybody to know there are two goalies in this series.
If this series stands as a referendum on championship styles, then the Hawks’ speed and puck movement showed it can beat the Kings’ physical, offensively challenged game.