One of the NHL’s conference finals went to form yesterday, and another saw the underdog strike first. The Chicago Blackhawks nipped the Los Angeles Kings, but the other favorite, the Pittsburgh Penguins, were outplayed at home by the Boston Bruins. Let’s rehash how Chicago and Boston drew first blood in their best-of-seven series and look ahead…
The Kings started this game the same way they ended Game 7 against San Jose in the previous round—with scoring by Justin Williams, who gave them a 1-0 lead. Falling behind against Jonathan Quick is enough to make any Chicago fan nervous, but the way this game unfolded ended up as repudiation to those of us who believe the goalie rules all in postseason play.
Quick was magnificent in a 2-1 defeat, but even though Chicago’s breakthrough came in the second period, the problems for Los Angeles were already present in the first. The Kings only took two shots on goal, while Chicago unleashed 17. The Blackhawks then peppered Quick with 14 more shots in the second period, when goals from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa gave them the lead. T
This is why Chicago’s 36 shots for the game, as impressive a total is that is, doesn’t even tell the story. The offensive attacks toned down once they were in front. It’s the 31 in two periods that’s the most telling stat. Quick is a tremendous goalie and if his team can even play Chicago remotely competitively, the goalie can put them over the top. But Chicago’s win yesterday was a reminder that even in the playoffs, it’s not entirely about the goalie.
Though I’m one who puts extreme weight on the netminder, I have to say it was nice to see. Sports should still be about being a complete team, and the Blackhawks were by far the more complete team on the ice Saturday. If Los Angeles is going to turn this around, Jeff Carter has to awaken. He hasn’t produced since the first round against St. Louis, and his one shot on goal yesterday was the most vivid reminder that he’s not even getting his cracks at the net.
Boston played exactly the kind of game they wanted against the superior offensive team in Pittsburgh. They survived the Penguins’ early aggressiveness, turned it into a grinding game and then broke it open against the inferior goalie in the third period.
David Krejci continues to put together his resume for Conn Smythe Award, so long as the Bruins at least make it to the Finals. The man who was the leading point producer in the playoffs through two rounds scored in the first period and again early in the third. Nathan Horton, another player who is paid primarily to light the lamp, scored the final goal with about twelve minutes left and assisted on both of Krejci’s goals.
A review of the shots by period tells you a lot—Pittsburgh outshot Boston 12-7, and even though they trailed 1-0 at the first intermission, there is no question that the Penguins’ deep array of offensive firepower would have broken through had this sustained. But the teams were like ships crossing in the night in the second period, ten shots apiece and Boston took over the third, winning shots 13-7 and seeing that reflected in the bottom line.
If I’m Pittsburgh, that third period shot total disturbs me, because they’re the team that should have launching shots in a fury. Instead, as a Boston fan that always sees the worst around the corner, I was rarely nervous in the final period. There just weren’t enough cases on Pittsburgh attacking to get one on the edge of their seat. And as Tomas Vokoun’s surrender of two goals showed, Pittsburgh doesn’t have the goalie to be conservative, even if they aren’t behind.
I’m hesitant to read too much into this result. I expect Pittsburgh to be much more aggressive offensively, and to get into the 35-40 shot range in Game 2. If they can’t, it’s going to be a long series for the favorite.
There’s no rest in the Windy City, as Los Angeles-Chicago are back at it tonight, with an 8 PM ET start on the NBC Sports Network. Game 2 of the Boston-Pittsburgh series can be seen on the same network on Monday night, also at 8 PM ET. TheSportsNotebook’s NHL analysis will be back Tuesday morning to sort out where each series stands.