It was the failures before the successes that propelled the Chicago Blackhawks into the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings.
“Looking back, I think it is a good thing for our team to have gone through what we just went through, to kind of be pushed to the end, for a moment feel like that was it,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
“So just goes to show, any situation we may come into in this next series, we’ll welcome the challenge.”
The challenge began officially when the Kings struck first at the United Center on Saturday, but two blue-collar scores from Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa in the second period held up for a 2-1 win in Game 1 and a 1-0 lead in the Western Conference finals.
After a dicey early score, Corey Crawford recovered to make 21 saves and effectively outduel Jonathan Quick, who nevertheless made 34 saves for the Kings.
With the Hawks thoroughly unable to solve Quick early, it took only the slightest mistake from Quick and some perfect positioning from Sharp to break through. The veteran winger skated into the zone after a stretch pass from Michal Handzus, and then dropped the puck to a trailing Johnny Oduya.
Oduya unloaded on the net, and as he did, Sharp skated into the slot unattended. Quick gave up a rebound essentially right to that area, and Sharp blasted it home for his eighth playoff score and the 1-1 tie at the 12:29 mark.
Minutes later, more deft positioning from Hossa led to the go-ahead score. After the winger was stoned on a wraparound attempt, he floated into a spot just in front of the crease as the puck circled back out to Duncan Keith. Keith sent a blast on net that Hossa redirected for his sixth postseason score and the 2-1 edge at 16:22.
This after an otherwise dominant first period turned into a 1-0 deficit for the Hawks on a score by Kings forward Justin Williams.
It took nearly 12 minutes for the Kings to muster just one shot on goal and another couple minutes to fire another one, but it was the second effort that counted. Hawks goalie Corey Crawford ventured behind his net to play a dump-in but seemed indecisive with the clear, and the Kings’ Brad Richardson leapt into the air to stuff the puck.
That jarred it loose and into the slot, where Williams skated by and poked it opposite his momentum and past a paralyzed Crawford for the 1-0 lead at the 14:23 mark.
To that point, the Hawks had applied pressure with nothing to show for it. They outshot the Kings by a mammoth 17-2 margin in the first period. On a power play not long before the Kings’ score, they nearly struck first on a rebound off a Patrick Sharp blast. But no one could push the loose puck past Quick.
The first legitimate Hawks chance came off the stick of Patrick Kane earlier, who skated unimpeded through the slot but couldn’t settle a bouncing puck enough to lift it past Quick midway through the first period.
The Kings’ Jarret Stoll returned to the lineup Saturday for the first time since the first round, when he was knocked out of a series with the Coyotes with a concussion from a Raffi Torres hit.