By Brad Vandenberk
Let’s start round three with a question? Who held their hand high in October when the whispers of repeat were in the air? Did we honestly think that we would be facing the exact same team, this time last season for the same title?
This proves to the NHL, especially the Western Conference, this is what a competitive franchise flirting with the dynasty headline looks like. The Kings have wowed the entire NHL with their story book playoff season thus far. Both of their series ended in a game 7, beating both Shark and Ducks to win the Pacific title. It wasn’t easy being down in both scenarios and finding a way to win on the “road”. I really don’t want to use air quotes, but let’s be honest, driving down highway 1, 45 minutes to play a road game, doesn’t quite constitute as a road game.
The Hawks have also had the luxury of playing close to home, travelling back to Chicago between games in the Wild series. Now the true elements are about to be bared. The Hawks have been sitting at home since late Tuesday night awaiting their next opponents. LA has since had to travel across the country and play again less than 48 hours after their game 7 victory on Friday.
Will we get a confident Hawks squad throwing the kitchen sink at Quick, or a laid back 4 day off team? Will LA be charged up ready to avenge their loss last year in just 5 games?
Corey Crawford took to his home crease. The one and only Jonathan Quick was in the visitor’s net. Andrew Shaw has resumed skating but was not in the line up for this one. Michal Rozsival worked his way back in to start the series. Recently suspended Brandon Bollig was also back in replacing speedy Joakim Nordstrom. Right before puck drop it was announced that Kings defensemen Willie Mitchell was back in their line up after missing the last two with a lower body injury. With the 2 day break in between game 1 and game 2 (Wednesday), there is a big chance for Andrew Shaw’s return.
Bickell Toews Hossa Keith Seabrook
Sharp Handzus Kane Hjalmarsson Oduya
Saad Regin Versteeg Leddy Rozsival
Bollig Kruger Smith
It didn’t take long for the strategic match ups to begin. Anze Kopitar lines up against Jonathan Toews. This will be a great series if this is the preface. The 4th line was reunited and picked up right where they left off, creating zone time posing a scary forecheck. There was no lack of speed in this Hawks team.
All lines were flying keeping the Kings on their heels early. Versteeg grabs a puck and rushes in behind the net, he spots a streaking Rozsival, but the veteran defenseman shots it wide. Suddenly the Kings tip the ice and it’s their turn to possess the puck. Peter Regin falls awkwardly into the boards and heads to the bench, he was fine and remained in the game.
Marian Gaborik, the leading goal scorer in these playoffs, gets 3 chances to beat Crawford, but it was the leading goaltender making the saves. Bollig comes in late when Quick covers the puck and gets shoved falling pretty easily sending Alec Martinez to the box for roughing.
With 2 seconds left in the power play, Nick Leddy fires a shot on net and Brandon Saad redirects it past Quick for a 1-0 lead. Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook both made great plays during the PP which eventually led to a goal.
Kyle Clifford hits Kane in the neutral zone. Leddy hustles back to break up a Mike Richards 2 on 1 attempt with a last minute play tipping the puck wide. As the period ticks down, Kane tries to deke out 3 Kings but was uneventful. Period ends with the Hawks outshooting the Kings 7-5.
The pace remained the same when the middle frame opened. Toews drives hard to the net putting every shot on Quick. Crawford makes a high glove save on Richards. Leddy tries to spring Patrick Sharp on a breakaway but it was a little too far.
Enter captain clutch. Toews skates a puck up the wing and heads hard to the net, igniting the UC crowd giving the hawks a 2 -0 lead. Not so fast! The refs take this one to review and it does appear to go off Slava Voynov’s skate and pass Quick, that’s not the part their looking at. Did Toews interfere with Quick while the puck was crossing the line? It was deemed yes and the goal was disallowed.
Moments later Kings come back into the Chicago zone and Tanner Pearson finds an open Tyler Toffoli who gets enough stick on it to tip it over Crawford and tie the game at 1 with 15:25 remaining.
Kings continue to bring the pressure and the Hawks are up to the task, especially Crawford who slides across to stone Clifford. The other way, Toews and Bickell break in on a 2 on 1 and Bickell shots it wide. The fourth line continues to create energy and a troubling forecheck.
At 8:06 mark of the period, Brandon Saad races in, stops and makes a cross ice feed to Duncan Keith coming in the zone. He sends a slap shot on net and it’s tipped by a Kings forward Trevor Lewis and past Quick for a 2-1 lead.
As the period comes to an end Niklas Hjalmarsson takes a hooking call and the Kings will open the third with 57 seconds on the power play. Kings outshot the Hawks 17-6.
The power play is killed off once again and the Hawks stay perfect for this series on the man advantage. Tyler Toffoli gets a great pass from Richards, beats Crawford’s poke check but can’t beat the post.
Rozsival heads to the penalty box after tripping Richards behind the net. Drew Doughty gets a shot from the point. Ben Smith heads the other way shorthanded and puts a shot on Quick.
The Kings fatigue starts to shine when they have a sloppy line change allowing Kane and Toews to break in on a 2 on 1 but Quick is there once again. The Hawks get their second power play of the game when Justin Williams elbows Rozsival along the boards. Both Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp have shots on net. A situation that barely happens with the Hawks sees a puck skip over Kane then Toews stick. Dustin Brown flies around the net and tries to hit Hossa. #81 notices him last second and brasses himself for the contact. Brown goes horizontal and Hossa remains unscathed.
The Hawks call their timeout with 6:06 left in the game. It turns out to settle the group down to finish with a victory. Hossa, Oduya and Toews break in on a 3 on 1 and Oduya sends a perfect pass to Toews who blasts a shot over Quick giving the Hawks a 3-1 lead with 3:50 left.
Bickell takes a hit in the neutral zone on a pinching Jake Muzzin which allowed the 3 on 1 to happen. LA pulls Quick with 2 minutes left and the Hawks set a record winning 7 straight playoff home games with a 3 -1 game 1 victory.
-Kings outshoot Hawks 26-20
-Hawks go 1/2 on the power play with the Kings going 0/2.
-Seabrook led all Hawks with 23:33 in TOI, Keith was next at 23:06.
-Toews went 11/18 in the faceoff circle, Handzus 12/20, Regin 2/12, Kruger 1/2.
-Saad (1G, 1A) and Hossa (2A) led all Hawks with 2 points.
-Now for another 2 days off before game 2 on Wednesday at the UC.