Commentary

Game 1 win shows Hawks on a roll

Since escaping the Blues in Round 1, Chicago has gradually approached Cup form

Updated: May 18, 2014, 9:08 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- Beneath a woolly, dark playoff beard, Chicago Blackhawks irritant Brandon Bollig flashed a wicked grin.

Bollig, who irritates Blackhawks fans and opponents alike, was fresh off a two-game suspension for boarding, but his penchant for instigation paid off in the first period of the Blackhawks' 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals opener Sunday.

Around seven minutes into the game, Bollig skated hard toward goalie Jonathan Quick, stopped on a dime and refused to move for a second.

Annoying, right? The Kings thought so, even though that kind of play happens, what, every other shift?

Bollig's mere presence led to a nudge by one Kings defenseman and then a two-handed shove by Alec Martinez, who was sent to the penalty box for roughing. The NBC cameras caught Bollig smiling as he got up from the ice.

That gave the Blackhawks an early chance to make something happen.

With two seconds left on the ensuing power play, Brandon Saad was in front of the net, eclipsing Quick, and he used his "lower body" to tip in a hard shot from Nick Leddy.

Who's hating Bollig now, Blackhawks fans? He skated 19 shifts for a total of nine minutes, but all he needed was that one play to stand out. Chicago is now 8-0 when it scores first and is the only remaining team that is undefeated at home in the postseason.

The stars are the stars for the Blackhawks in this postseason -- Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford -- but never discount the accumulation of those little moments.

"The refs are looking for that and for [Bollig] to draw that. It's always nice to get on the power play," Saad said. "He had his grin going for sure, and that's big. We expect him to do that for us."

In the second period, Duncan Keith broke a 1-1 tie with a rocket inside the blue line, and Toews ended the scoring with a 3-on-1 insurance goal late in the third period.

Toews' goal in the second period was disallowed because of a convoluted and poorly communicated call. And while that non-goal was the most memorable -- Toews hurdling Quick like a dog diving for a ball -- and most talked about after the game, the Blackhawks didn't need any calls to get off to a fast start against Quick and the Kings.

They just needed to play their individual roles in the larger game. What's that saying? Eighty percent of playoff goals are showing up in front of the net?

"I need to start doing that more," the 21-year-old Saad said. "I can get goals different types of ways. I think getting to the net in the playoffs is how they're going to come."

It was the first postseason power-play goal of Saad's career and the Blackhawks' seventh of this playoff run. The Hawks killed two more penalties, running their postseason total to 44 of 48.

As Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said, "We don't care how they go in, but if you're looking for a perfect goal in the power play, it isn't going to happen."

Meanwhile, Crawford continued his dominant level of goaltending. Even when the post saves a goal, the crowd still chants, "Cor-ey! Cor-ey!"

Crawford stopped 25 shots, including 16 of 17 in the second period. The Kings think maybe they need to pitch a tent at Camp Crawford to neutralize the goaltender, or at least better their odds.

[+] EnlargeCorey Crawford
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsCorey Crawford found success in Game 1 because he had clear vision in front of the net for most of the game.
"I think we can do a better [job] of getting in front of the net and make it harder on their goalie because we had some pretty good shots, but nobody was hanging around," Kings center Anze Kopitar said. "So he was able to see everything."

Crawford with a clear view is certainly dangerous.

This rematch of last postseason's conference finals promises to be a more visually appealing series, but Quenneville doesn't want to get into an up-and-down battle with the Kings, who outshot Chicago 26-20. It's a big change from the last series and the hard-trapping Minnesota Wild, but that's what the playoffs are all about in any sport. Adapt, survive and advance.

It's foolish to project a series after the first game, but the Blackhawks have been rolling since falling behind 2-0 to the St. Louis Blues in the first round. They have the goaltending, the experience and the discipline to be in the right spot at the right time. There's a reason they are the clear favorite in a final four devoid of division champions.

But the "Kardiac Kings," with six elimination-game wins in two rounds, have experience skating to the precipice and moving on.

It's anybody's series, but right now, the Blackhawks are making their own luck and enjoying the results.

Because, when Bollig is getting positive press in a playoff game, you know you're living right.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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