Thanks to a late third period goal by Jonathan Toews, the Chicago Blackhawks knocked off the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 3-1 on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
The Blackhawks got some great chances early in the game as they came out of the gate strong, but none of the shots could find the back of the net. Michal Rozsival pinched through the slot and fired a one-timer just wide of the net, and Patrick Sharp also picked up a shot that he fired high on Jonathan Quick. The Kings’ goaltender made the save and kept the game scoreless.
Through the middle stages of the period, the Kings responded well with a couple of chances of their own. Mike Richards blasted a one-timer shot on a 3-on-2 rush that Corey Crawford snared with a quality glove save, and despite a few more good chances created by sustained possession, the Kings couldn’t quite strike first.
After Brandon Bollig drew a penalty late in the first period, the Blackhawks finally got on the board. Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy both made important plays to keep the puck in the zone, and when Leddy wired in a shot from the point, Brandon Saad was there to tip it into the net to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
As the period wound down, the Kings did get a few more chances to score, but they still couldn’t convert as Chicago maintained their lead through 20 minutes. Richards got another good opportunity on the rush, but Leddy was there to make the critical backcheck to jar the puck loose and keep his team ahead.
When the two teams came back out for the second period, the tempo remained high. Crawford made two key stops on shots from Tyler Toffoli and Jeff Carter, and Quick was able to stop a shot from Patrick Kane from near the goal line at the other end.
With the intensity still raging, it appeared as though the Blackhawks took a 2-0 lead. Jonathan Toews collected the puck on the rush after a nice feed across the ice by a pinching Johnny Oduya, but despite the fact that the puck did end up in the back of the net, it was eventually overturned after the officials conferred and decided that Toews had made incidental contact with Quick in the crease.
With the wind out of their sails a bit, the Blackhawks let up a bit, and the Kings took full advantage as they tied the game about a minute later. On a quick odd-man rush, Tanner Pearson fed the puck across the zone to a wide open Toffoli, who chipped a one-timer past Corey Crawford and into the net to make it a 1-1 game.
After that goal, the Kings continued to press, and they came within inches of taking the lead on several occasions. On another 2-on-1 rush, Anze Kopitar found Marian Gaborik streaking up the ice, but Crawford was able to make the initial stop, and he also covered up the post to prevent Dustin Brown from getting a rebound attempt.
The Blackhawks finally settled down a bit as Crawford made those saves, and eventually they took the lead. After Jeff Schultz turned the puck over in the neutral zone, Marcus Kruger pushed the puck into the offensive zone for Saad. The Hawks’ winger turned back toward the point to buy some time, and he feathered a pass across the zone to Duncan Keith at the point. The Hawks’ defenseman blasted a shot that deflected off of both Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll, and Quick couldn’t stop it as it went into the top of the net and gave Chicago a 2-1 lead.
The Kings got a late power play with about a minute remaining in the second period, but despite the carry-over into the third period, they weren’t able to score. They did come close when Justin Williams got the puck in front of the net, but Michal Rozsival made an excellent poke check to push the puck away and keep his team in front.
The Kings kept pushing the tempo in the third period even after the missed power play opportunity, and they eventually got a power play. Toffoli had a breakaway attempt ring off the post after he beat a sprawled out Crawford, but Rozsival was tagged with the infraction after getting tangled up with Richards.
On the ensuing power play, the Kings couldn't quite get anything going thanks to an aggressive Blackhawks forecheck, and they couldn't convert as Rozsival was released from the box. Bickell and Kane both picked up chances for the Blackhawks in the ensuing moments after the penalty was killed off, but Quick was up to the task as he knocked both shots away.
The Blackhawks got a power play a few minutes later, but this time it was the Kings' turn to settle in on defense. Patrick Sharp had the only decent opportunity of the ensuing two minutes for the Hawks, but his shot skipped just wide as the Kings killed off the penalty with relative ease.
The physical aspect of things seemed to ratchet up in the later stages of the period, with the Kings getting victimized by a couple of key plays by the Blackhawks. Brown went in for a hit on Hossa behind the Chicago net, but the veteran Slovakian forward blasted Brown with a hit of his own, sending the Kings' captain sprawling to the ice. On the next play, Toffoli tried to carry the puck into the offensive zone, but it was immediately stolen by Saad as the Hawks continued to prevent many scoring chances for Los Angeles.
The Blackhawks didn't get a lot of chances in the third period, but with just under four minutes left, they finally were able to take advantage of one to add a critical insurance goal. On a 3-on-1 rush, Johnny Oduya carried the puck into the neutral zone, and when he found Toews, the Hawks' captain didn't miss as he blasted a one-timer past Quick and made it a 3-1 game.
In the final few minutes, the Kings pulled Quick from the goal, but they weren't able to get any good sustained pressure on Crawford in the offensive zone. Instead, they spent most of their time preventing the Blackhawks from getting an empty net goal, with Lewis making a nice play against Keith at the point to keep him from having a shot.
The Kings will look to bounce back on Wednesday night when they battle the Blackhawks in Game 2 of the series. The contest will begin at 5pm Pacific time, and can be seen on NBCSN.