- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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1. Not buying that Brandon Bollig took a dive for the penalty in Game 1. No, it wasn't a mighty push by the Kings' Alec Martinez which resulted in Bollig crashing to the ice around the net after the whistle in the first period. I went back and reviewed the incident a few dozen times, and I came to the conclusion Bollig was simply caught off-guard by it. Aside from the visual evidence of that, Bollig isn't the type of player who wants to be knocked to the ground by an opponent. He prides himself on being a tough guy and being dropped like that would be deemed being weak. I also don't see him as a diver. It's nothing he's done in the past. It was also a bit dangerous falling like that with so many players around the net. He nearly took teammate Marcus Kruger's knee out on his way down.
Having written all that, it's understandable why the Kings were upset with Bollig and the penalty. It was a soft push, and there were plenty of after-whistle scrums throughout the game, and no other one drew a roughing penalty. The penalty cost the Kings on the Blackhawks' power play. The devilish grin which appeared on Bollig's face after he hit the ice and the penalty was called certainly angered the Kings as well. I'm sure over the remaining games there will be plenty of vocal and physical interaction between Bollig and the Kings.
2. Corey Crawford deserves all the respect he's given now, but he wasn't being disrespected in the regular season. Locally and nationally, a lot is being written about Crawford's stellar play right now. Within the ESPN house, I wrote on Crawford just last week, and Scott Burnside wrote about him after Game 1 against the Kings. There are plenty of others writing about him as well. Like the playoffs last season, Crawford is one of the main reasons why the Blackhawks have advanced to where they are in the playoffs. He has a 1.90 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the playoffs this season. In the Blackhawks' nine playoff wins, he's stopped 260-of-272 shots for a .956 save percentage. He's been nearly impenetrable. It's been impressive and coupled with last season should really silence his remaining critics for many years (but probably won't).
But for all the attention Crawford is receiving now, it wasn't as if he was being overlooked in the regular season. The reason why he wasn't receiving a high volume of publicity, at least nationally, was because his play wasn't at this same level. His .917 save percentage tied him for 20th in the league in the regular season. He especially struggled over the season's first 2 1/2 months until he got hurt. He had a .907 save percentage after 27 games. He came back a different goalie from his injury in January. He had a .924 save percentage over his final 32 games. Now if he had a .924 save percentage for the whole season, he would have been tied for seventh. Crawford has proven twice now to be an elite goaltender in the playoffs, just not in the regular-season yet. That could be his next progression.
3. Some quick observations after watching Game 1 again:
Flipping Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad on lines in the second period worked at the time for the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith's goal was on a pass from Saad shortly after the switch. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville stuck with it during line rushes at practice on Tuesday.
The Blackhawks defensemen were caught in the neutral zone a handful of times and nearly cost them multiple goals. The Kings' one goal was partly due to Michal Rozsival getting stuck in the natural zone (plus, there was a bad line change). Keith and Nick Leddy did the same thing, but the Kings didn't score. Leddy was fortunate Tyler Toffoli wasn't able to score on his breakaway after beating Crawford. Leddy played just 2:12 of even-strength ice time in the third period, and Rozsival played 2:31.
The fourth line held its own, and that's a good sign for the Blackhawks. That line of Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith wasn't a fluke in the regular season and keeping it together does benefit the Blackhawks across all four lines. The line was outshot by the Kings in Game 1, but it didn't have a single offensive zone start and was close to 50 percent Corsi.
The Blackhawks held an advantage in special teams again. For the fifth time in the playoffs, they scored a power-play goal and had a perfect penalty kill. That's big. The penalty kill has been coming up all playoffs. It's 91.7 kill percentage is actually higher so far than last playoffs' 90.8 percentage.