|CHI Leads Series 1 - 0|
CHICAGO -- It took the Chicago Blackhawks half the game to discover what they already knew, that perimeter shots with no one in front of the net won't get it done against the Los Angeles Kings -- or any team for that matter.
Once the Blackhawks figured that out, they did what they do best: strike quickly to take a lead they rarely give up.
Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa scored less than four minutes apart in the second period Saturday at United Center, solving Kings goalie Jonathan Quick with a rebound goal and a tip-in goal. Chicago's NHL-best penalty kill did its job in the third period, and Corey Crawford finished with 21 saves in a 2-1 victory in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
The Blackhawks improved to 6-0 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs when leading after two periods. They were 26-1-2 in such games during the regular season. They're also 42-for-43 on the penalty kill in the playoffs.
"We knew we were coming into the series with Quick, he's a great goalie, you can tell by the amazing saves he made out there," Blackhawks center Dave Bolland said. "He's great in transition and going side to side. We peppered him and gave him all we did. We had the bodies in front, and that's what we have to keep doing. [We] have to work it down low and keep getting the bodies to the net."
The Kings left the first period with a 1-0 lead but never established their forecheck and had trouble negating the Blackhawks' speed once they finally got going shortly after the midway point.
Los Angeles' goal came when Justin Williams redirected Bolland's failed clearing attempt past Crawford with 5:37 left in the first.
The Kings now have six losses in the playoffs this year -- all 2-1. They are 1-6 on the road after going 10-1 last spring on the way to their first Stanley Cup.
Game 2 is this best-of-7 series is Sunday at United Center (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"We didn't deserve to win that game," said Kings center Jarret Stoll, who returned after missing the final six games of the conference semifinals with a concussion. "That's the bottom line. I don't think any of us in here can say we deserved to win that game, so we didn't."
The Blackhawks held a misleading 17-2 first-period advantage in shots on goal. Most were from the outside, and Quick saw them all. Most were not dangerous. They rarely had bodies in front of the net.
All that changed in the second period, when Sharp scored his eighth goal of the playoffs off a rebound from the slot at 12:29 to tie the game 1-1. Hossa scored his sixth of the postseason with a tip-in from the slot 3:53 later to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead.
The Blackhawks had a 31-14 advantage in shots on goal through two periods -- and with a 2-1 lead, the shot differential now mattered. It proved Chicago was getting rewarded for playing the way it wanted to play and that Los Angeles never could get to its heavy forechecking game, the style that has been so successful for six straight rounds in the playoffs.
"You give up 17 shots in a period, even if they're coming from outside or from the walls, it means you're not playing in their zone," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "We've gotta have more O-zone time and establish our game. We're a grinding team, and that's what we've gotta do. We've gotta put more pucks behind their D and forecheck as units as five."
The Blackhawks don't always have to put pucks behind the Kings defense because they're more adept at scoring off the rush. However, the key to making their rush opportunities count against the Kings is to get in the right position so they can make good on their second-chance opportunities because they know Quick is likely going to stop the first one. That's what Sharp did to score his goal.
Michal Handzus made a quick pass up the ice to Sharp to clear the zone and start a 2-on-2 rush. Sharp came into the offensive zone with speed, dropped a pass to Johnny Oduya, who was trailing him, and darted to the net. Oduya shot, and Sharp evaded Kings defenseman Drew Doughty to pounce on the juicy rebound that came off Quick's left pad. Sharp shot it into the net, inches from Quick's already stretched out left leg.
It was the blueprint for how the Blackhawks have to beat Quick.
"That first shot against [Quick] is tough," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "You need traffic. You need a deflection. He finds a way to find pucks. I think the volume of shots and traffic is the only way to get to this guy."
That's how Chicago got to Quick again with 3:38 left in the second period, with a shot from the point, traffic in front of the net, and a deflection by Hossa, who gained inside position on Kings center Mike Richards.
"He's one of the fastest goalies in the League, if not the fastest," Hossa said of Quick, who made 34 saves. "Whatever he sees, he's going to stop it. You have to have traffic in front of him, pin him in the blue paint, and put lots of pucks in the corners or in his feet and go for the second chances."
The Kings felt they were better in the third period, but coach Darryl Sutter commented on how he didn't get nearly enough from his top players throughout the game. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Richards and Doughty combined for four shots on goal.
Sutter said they were "having trouble keeping up."
"We had guys fall off," he also said. "Shifts fell off primarily from the top end of our lineup. It's tough to sustain it."
Especially when the Blackhawks figure out how they can beat you.
"We need to get inside and look for our second and third opportunities," Bickell said. "Hopefully we can get that and crack [Quick] a little bit more."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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