With the finish line coming into view once again, the Blackhawks came out in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals as though they knew the chance to repeat is no longer 10 steps down the road. They controlled play for the better part of the first period and save for Marian Gaborik getting a couple clean looks in the slot, they did a good job of keeping the Kings to the outside and negating any kind of forecheck with clean breakouts.
After the first period, it was 1-0. The Kings had a bit of a push back to start the second but near the three minute mark of the second, Jonathan Toews appeared to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead. Referee Kevin Pollock, standing a mere foot from Jonathan Quick, signaled good goal. Somewhere in between the call to Toronto and the chaos that ensued, the officials huddled and decided to change the call on the ice to incidental contact and no goal.
Problem was, they told no one of the call. Then Joel Quenneville predictably erupted. The Kings, predictably, had a huge push and the Hawks, predictably, were in a collective fog for the better part of the period.
There are countless examples of something like this happening in sports. When a point, goal or run is put on the scoreboard and then mysteriously wiped out for reasons that only make sense to a small minority, the team that gets the break always gets a fresh breath of life and the team that has something taken away always needs time to recover from it. These are games played and officiated by human beings, after all.
Here’s the funny thing. Had the officials made that call from the beginning or had they announced they changed the call, I doubt it would have caused half the uproar that it did. I would have also been more inclined to agree that incidental contact was the right call to make. Instead, they turned it into what really could have been a series-altering call.
If it weren’t for Corey Crawford standing tall during the Kings strongest surge of the game, the Hawks could, very well, had been buried in the second period and everyone’s post-game mood would be a lot less cheery. His save on Kyle Clifford on a 2-on-1 shortly after LA tied it was probably the biggest save of the game.
Crawford was instrumental in ensuring the Hawks didn’t lose their marbles when it would’ve been totally understandable if they did.
It was only after Crawford weathered the storm that Brandon Saad was able to deliver a pregnancy-inducing cross-ice saucer pass to Duncan Keith. Keith blasted it; it hit a Kings defender and bounced over Quick’s glove.
The Hawks withstood two Kings power plays in the third and then capped the win with a perfectly executed 3-on-1 with Jonathan Toews, Johnny Oduya and Marian Hossa taking advantage of a poorly timed Jake Muzzin pinch at the blue line.
On to more thoughts
–I’m sorry I have to talk more about the blown call from the second period. Just as Sam wrote last week, the Blackhawks never seem to get frazzled for too long even when the world around them turns to black. I shutter to think how a Mike Keenan led team would have reacted to such a fate happening to them as the Hawks did today.
And the Hawks would have been justified in melting down. Make no mistake, this was a historically mismanaged situation by the NHL that ended up screwing the Hawks in the second most important playoff round. Just like last year in a Game 7 against Detroit, thought, where another goal was wiped off the board at an inopportune time, the Hawks didn’t let the situation define them.
It’s my favorite part of watching this Hawks team. No situation ever has them down for very long and they will always come back with a response. That trait is so incredibly rare and it should really be appreciated more than I feel it is. Because one day, it will be gone and potentially soul-crushing moments will truly be soul-crushing.
So let’s all try to remember that the next time they lose a game.
–Today’s blown call is also why I’m not too overly concerned with how the possession numbers look from the game. At the point before the disallowed goal even with a Kings push, the numbers were tilted in the Hawks favor. There’s just no way to quantify the affect that one play had on the rest of the game. The Hawks went from being up 2-0 after a first period that they strongly controlled to being tied 1-1 in a matter of moments.
Had the Hawks been staked to a 2-0 lead, would it have been as easy for LA to come storming back? Would the Kings have had as strong a push simply trying to respond being down 2-0 as opposed to knowing they just got a huge break? We just don’t know and in this instance of the NHL shitting all over it’s leg on national television, I’m willing to call this game an outlier until we see more.
Right, some thoughts that didn’t involve this decision.
–There was a subtle change to the Hawks lineup midway through the second period. Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad switched spots. The change led to the go-ahead goal as Saad was instrumental in kick-starting it. Sharp found himself with Regin and Versteeg.
Of course, so long as Handzus is huffing and puffing to keep up on the top 6, it’s a constant reshuffling of deck chairs. Whether it’s Kane and Saad or Kane and Sharp or Sharp and Hossa, the second line is playing 4 on 5 for the first three to five critical seconds of offensive zone entries. I counted two times today (just off the top of my head) where Kane gained the blue line, was looking for a second option as two defenders collapsed on his first option and Handzus was off the screen, only to appear as the puck was heading the other way.
Maybe it won’t end up costing the Hawks when it’s all over. They’ve made it this far with him, after all. It’s not something, however, I’d recommend trying for a third straight year.
–Whoever comes out of this series, if anyone other than Anze Kopitar or Corey Crawford wins the Conn Smythe, it will be an absolute mockery of the award.
–Nick Leddy played exceptional for two periods, the type of play where you say, “Yes. I want to see more of this. And someone put Oduya in the cannon to launch to Florida”
Then in the third period, he trips and falls over his feet on a power play with Anze Kopitar bearing down on him (Marian Hossa bailed him out with yet another phenomenal play) and Tyler Toffoli gets behind him on a breakaway and you completely understand why Joel Quenneville struggles to trust him in big situations.
I don’t recall many 3rd period shifts for him following that Toffoli breakaway.
–Two days of rest until Game 2. I’m sure there will be more fallout from this one.