8:28 AM CDT, June 4, 2013
Among the many ways the Blackhawks pantsed the Kings in the first two games of the Western Conference finals, this might be the most amazing stat that blew up supposedly impenetrable goalie Jonathan Quick:
Three times the Hawks scored two goals in a period against a netminder who’s giving up an average of less than two goals a game.
The Hawks beat the best goalie in the playoffs in the first game and chased him in the second, and now they’ll try to torch Quick in Los Angeles, which has been no easy thing of late.
It has been impossible, actually. The Kings are 7-0 in the Staples Center this postseason, 8-0 in the playoffs going back to last year’s Stanley Cup championship, and 14-0 dating to the last seven games of the regular season.
But the way I look at it, the Kings’ phenomenal home record compared to their miserable 1-7 road playoff record doesn’t indicate an invincible team as much as it exposes it.
Playing at home, the Kings will have the last line change, and that apparently is a strategic advantage they need as desperately as they need their fans and proximity to In-n-Out Burger.’’
The Kings wouldn’t seem to have the depth or versatility to overcome that disadvantage on the road.
For instance, the last line change would allow Kings coach Darryl Sutter to get Anze Kopitar away from Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, if that’s how they wanted to play it.
On the road, the Kings couldn’t match Mike Richards against Jonathan Toews, if the plan was for Richards to mimic the annoying ways of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg. After taking a vicious hit from Dave Bolland near the end of the opener, Richards missed Game 2 because of a concussion.
So, everybody says things will be different now that the series switches to Los Angeles.
But it doesn’t have to be.
In fact, it shouldn’t be.
“Whether you're at the United Center or here,’’ Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said in Los Angeles on Monday, “it shouldn't change too much how we have to play.’’
No, it shouldn’t. But it does anyway. At least, it does with some teams. They change venues and then change their games. Visiting teams often adopt a defensive posture early to withstand the home team’s expected jump. A lot of opponents come into the United Center and do exactly that, hoping to survive the first 10 minutes.
It’s wrong. Sometimes it’s inexplicable. But it happens to even the best-coached playoff teams.
It should not happen to the Hawks. They’re better and smarter than that.
The key for the Hawks is playing these road games as if they were at home, especially at the start. I mean, if you want to kill a buzz, you score quickly. At worst, you attack.
The Hawks did that in Detroit. Even though they lost Games 3 and 4, they didn’t sit back. They forced the play, which created turnovers, which led to scoring chances.
What the Hawks didn’t do then was finish. Half the time they shot pucks directly into Jimmy Howard. Eventually, they wised up.
And since they wised up, by the way, they have won five in a row and scored 16 goals.
They’ve shown they can finish against Quick. They’ve shown they can dictate play on the road from the opening faceoff. That ought to be the plan this week.
When you can skate like the Hawks, that ought to be the only plan.
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