Blackhawks firing on all cylinders
CHICAGO -- Oh, baby, these guys are rolling.
Five wins in a row later, and now the only burning question is whether these guys can be stopped.
Not since that magical spring of 2010 have the Blackhawks rolled like they are now, the United Center rocking deliriously Sunday night with each goal, the fourth chasing reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick from the game midway through the second period of what eventually would be a 4-2 victory.
"We expected them to be better than they were in Game 1 and they were. We raised our play, too," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
What was even more impressive Sunday night is that the Blackhawks knew the Kings would push back after a lackluster opener Saturday, and the defending Cup champs did just that with a solid opening 17-18 minutes, outshooting the Hawks and spending more time in Chicago's zone with an effective forecheck.
"I thought our first period we had probably more chances than we had all of last game," Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
But when Brent Seabrook blasted a slap shot from an acute angle with 51 seconds to go in the opening period for a 2-0 Hawks lead, that felt like the back-breaker.
"We give up a late goal in the first, and I think that's probably a tougher goal than the first one," Brown agreed. "Going down 2-0 compared to 1-0 is a big difference, especially in the last minute."
Chicago came in waves in the second period, pressing with its superior speed and forcing the Kings into mistakes.
With the crowd on its feet, it was a powerful moment seeing the Kings make the goalie change, Quick having given up more than two goals for the only third time in 15 playoff games.
"It's huge for us," Toews said of chasing Quick. "We went through a little spurt in the last series where we were doing the right things, but the pucks weren't going in. So now we're getting the results we want. We know we can do what we're doing more often and we can do it better as well in the next few games."
Mind you, the biggest body blow of all for the Kings came before the puck was dropped, star center Mike Richards scratched with an upper-body injury, no doubt feeling the effects of that thunderous bodycheck delivered on him late in Game 1 by Dave Bolland.
Richards actually participated in the pregame warmup, at which time he didn't fell right.
"He was fine today, then I think just once his blood got pumping tonight, the adrenaline got going, there were symptoms," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said. "I went in right after warmup, he was sitting there and I said, 'Unless you're 100 percent, you're not playing.'"
We know we can do what we're doing more often and we can do it better as well in the next few games.” -- Jonathan Toews, on Blackhawks vs. Kings
Sutter had no further update on his status. If Richards can't play in Los Angeles as the series shifts to Staples Center for Games 3-4, that's the kind of lineup hole few teams can overcome. Short of Quick and Drew Doughty, I'm not sure who else matters to the Kings' success more than Richards, whose gritty, two-way game helped forge the Kings' identity after being traded from Philadelphia in the summer of 2011.
Put it this way, take Toews out of the Hawks lineup and see how that feels. That's what it's like for the Kings missing Richards.
Even if Richards does return for Game 3, the Kings are in a hole that's going to be tough to overcome. They did it against the Blues after dropping the two opening games in the opening round, but winning four of the next five games against this Chicago team seems almost insurmountable.
I say "almost" because you never want to count out a defending Cup champion after two games.
"We're down 2-0. We've been in this situation once already, it's not the situation we want to be in, but it's the reason we play seven games," said Brown, whose team is a perfect 7-0 at home this playoff season.
They've got a tall task ahead as the Hawks showed Sunday night that they've got many different ways to beat you.
The game was just 1:56 old when third-line center Andrew Shaw opened the scoring. This unit, which also includes Brandon Saad and Viktor Stalberg, has been impressive in the opening two games of this series. It's hard enough having to worry about Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. But the Blackhawks are employing a third line delivering consistent offense and they might be too much to overcome for opposing teams. Which was also, by the way, the recipe for the 2010 Blackhawks.
Add in a fourth line that delivers quality shifts, and there's serious balance on this team right now.
"When we're rolling four lines hard with short shifts, I think we have a great hockey team and a great pace in our game," said Bickell, whose six playoff goals also underlines the offensive diversity on this team. "And I think when we do that, we have confidence. I know it wears down their D and their forwards, when we keep 'em short. It's fun to be part of."
The top three forward lines all got on the board Sunday night for Chicago, a dominating effort by the Presidents' Trophy winners, who appear forged by the adversity they faced and conquered last round.
"It's playoff hockey," Toews said. "One day things don't look so good. But you battle your way back and next thing you know you're feeling pretty good. Momentum can swing pretty quick throughout the playoffs. We understand that we're feeling pretty good about where we are in this series but that's not a team that's going to give up too easy. They're going to keep fighting to battle their way back in this series. So we can't be satisfied with anything, we can't expect our momentum to just keep carrying us the next little games. We have to work to keep that going."