Blackhawks down Kings 2-1 with best effort of the playoffs - FOX 35 News Orlando

Blackhawks down Kings 2-1 with best effort of the playoffs

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

To defeat Los Angeles and move on to compete for the Stanley Cup the Blackhawks needed to elevate their level of play. On Saturday they did just that and captured Game 1 with a 2-1 victory.

The score was kind to the Kings due to the stellar play of Jonathan Quick. Corey Crawford was no slouch either although not often severely tested.

On paper the Kings are a stronger club than the Red Wings. They have a deep group of centers but their top two pivots aren't any better than Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Make no mistake Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar are very good players, but defensively they are not equal to Datsyuk and Zetterberg.

When Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa can dominate, things roll smoothly for the Blackhawks. Toews seemed to have an easier time when defended by Richards than in the previous series. If that trend continues the Kings will have a very difficult time winning four of the next six games.

Bryan Bickell continued his fine play and was a big part of the top line. Bickell did slide down for a bit to the third line and that could be another option for Joel Quenneville. Brandon Saad was then moved up with Toews and Hossa, and he was noticeable no matter what line he played on. 

During the opening frame the Hawks outshot the Kings 17-2, and the shot imbalance was a good indication of how much LA was dominated. As luck would have it the Kings scored on their second shot which wasn't much of a shot at all.

Crawford had somewhat of an adventure trying to play a puck behind the Hawks net and a scramble ensued. Crawford got back in position but Dave Bolland went to clear the puck from in front of the crease and was a bit careless. The Kings then got lucky as Bolland's turn around clearing attempt was shot directly into Justin Williams and he put the puck behind Crawford into the net.

Instead of coming away with a lead in a period they dominated the Hawks were trailing 1-0 after the first frame. The Blackhawks had reason to come out in the second period deflated, with a less aggressive effort but after the few minutes they continued where they left off.

The Blackhawks controlled the pace of the contest because they were able to quickly exit their zone. The passing from defense to offense was crisp and accurate. The only thing left was to find a way to solve Quick. 

Just after the 12:00 minute mark of the middle period the Hawks rushed up ice and hit the LA blueline was speed. Patrick Sharp was leading the rush and he made a drop pass to Johnny Oduya who was following the play. Sharp then bolted straight for the Kings net and Oduya made a fine shot.

Quick is not going to get beat with just a 40 foot shot, the Hawks tried a few times in period one to no avail. Oduya shot the puck with purpose by keeping it low while trying to get Quick to make the save with his outside pad. Quick stopped the puck but had little choice but to give up a rebound as the hustling Sharp was waiting and he made no mistake.

Once the Hawks were able to draw even they kept the pressure on and slightly less than four minutes later Marian Hossa found another way to beat Quick. After a fine puck retrieval by Bickell, Duncan Keith let a shot go and Hossa was able to redirect the puck past Quick. It should also be noted Toews was in front of the net as well as the Hawks took the lead for good on the slick deflection.

There isn't a secret formula to beat Quick. The Hawks knew what to do but more important was the fact they were able to put forth the necessary effort to succeed. It isn't by coincidence simple hockey of shooting to create a rebound and traffic in front of Quick led to the only two goals by Chicago.

The Blackhawks defense is the key to this series. When they can quickly pass the puck out of their own zone the Los Angeles forecheck is neutralized. Besides Quick, the Kings forecheck is the best part of their game and without it they will chase the puck while not get as many scoring chances.

There has been a lot talk the Blackhawks will have difficulty handling the Kings physicality. That point has been overstated, as the Hawks can control the pace of play without looking to crush a LA player at every opportunity. The puck is the fastest moving object on the ice and as long as the Hawks keep going to high traffic areas and pass well the Kings will have a difficult time.

The Hawks don't have to worry about not being physical; the concern isn't about being tough enough. The question is how consistently the Blackhawks can perform at the same level as Game 1, because Saturday's match was their best so far this post season.

For those who like to keep track of hits, the Kings outhit the Hawks 44 -38 but that stat in itself is not significant. The Blackhawks had control of the puck most of the game and they did a nice job of working the Los Angeles defense below the faceoff circles. To come up with almost 40 hits in Game 1 says the Hawks were up to the physical challenge.

It is a fast turnaround to Sunday night's Game 2 but the Blackhawks have been great this season in the second of back to back contests. If the Hawks can succeed with another victory they will put themselves in a good position to play for the Stanley Cup.

Al's Shots

Sometimes it is a question of using words that have different meanings at different times.

When I say the Hawks didn't play with the right effort, it doesn't mean the players weren't trying to win. More accurately it means their level of play couldn't be sustained or they were not playing effectively.

So far out of the 13 playoffs the Blackhawks have failed to have an effective 60 minute effort in most games. Part of the reason is because the opponent was the cause, but usually what happens is the best players are outplayed by their counterparts.

In post game comments Kings bench boss Darryl Sutter said the top end of his lineup couldn't keep up. Basically saying his best players were getting outplayed.

The Hawks had a lot to do with that fact but Richards, Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter didn't play at their top level.

If the Hawks lose Game 2 they could be right back where they were in the Detroit series. The Kings are a great home team and they would be going back to LA for two games with momentum.

I'm not saying the Blackhawks are lock to win on Sunday night but I highly doubt their better players don't show up with a strong effort. Maybe the Hawks collectively realize they escaped by the skin of their teeth in the last series and would have only themselves to blame if they didn't advance.

Patrick Sharp had another very good game and his center Michal Handzus made a nice pass to start the opening goal scoring play.

Patrick Kane still hasn't found his top gear. Having Handzus as his center hasn't worked so well for Kane but he has to find a way to make it better.

Bolland according to Quenneville is making some strides. It is a matter of whether Bolland will be permitted to move back to the second line. If he can improve enough to warrant more minutes Quenneville would benefit and so might Kane.

Bolland put an awkward check on Richards behind the Chicago net with little time remaining. Bolland left his feet and turned his back while making contact with Richards head. I don't think the play will draw a suspension but one never knows with the NHL. Bolland is at his best when playing on the edge, and drawing penalties while not being sent to the box.

Andrew Shaw had another solid game as he was credited with five hits and two shots on the night. Only Bickell with six hits had more, as he led all players.

Shaw needs to stop trying to set picks when the Hawks are on a power play. Every NHL official will be watching for it as Shaw has been recently whistled two times for interference. Kings All Star defender Doughty did a great job of selling the infraction to the ref as he went down as if he was shot when Shaw brushed into him.

The Kings should be better in Game 2 but if the Hawks can play with the same determination it may not be enough.

Follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia, and I will be back on Monday morning.

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