Having taken one giant step for mankind—or at least for hockey fans in Chicago—by vanquishing ancient adversaries from Detroit, the Blackhawks could hardly exhale before finding themselves up against a modern legend on Saturday: Jonathan Quick, goalie who sees all and saves all.
Quick backstopped the Los Angeles Kings to a Stanley Cup last June, and with a herniated disc. Now he’s healthy and, some would say, playing even better than a year ago.
But even the greatest of netminders are vincible when dealing with rebounds and tip-ins. Thus, did the Blackhawks accomplish what certain forecasters imagined to be mission impossible in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final at the United Center: they actually beat Quick and the defending champions, 2-1.
It’s amazing what can happen when you put forth 60 minutes of “clean” hockey, that word belonging to Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks’ most important individual in the Detroit series and Saturday’s winning goalie. He yielded to Justin Williams on the Kings’ second and final shot of the opening period while the Blackhawks launched 17 on Quick.
“Fortunate,” replied Los Angeles Head Coach Darryl Sutter when asked how he felt at the intermission. The flow of play did not seem quite as lopsided as the statistics indicated, but the Blackhawks continued to skate with the puck and deny without it. The Kings have the same number of bodies on the ice at even strength; they just appear to be taking up more space.
Still, the theory that the visitors would bully their way over the blue line and bludgeon the Blackhawks out of the building looks like another false alarm, at least so far. The Blackhawks didn’t accomplish what they did this season by being fragile, mentally or physically.
And thank goodness for Joel Quenneville that Patrick Sharp tied it on a juicy rebound, then Marian Hossa redirected a blast from Duncan Keith less than four minutes apart in the second period. Otherwise, we might be hearing another familiar chant from a week ago about who is outcoaching whom.
First impressions are that the Kings might have as much difficulty coping with the Blackhawks’ quickness as the Blackhawks will endure in solving Quick. He is a tremendous talent who is able to try two sports at once—hockey and gymnastics—but rarely is he spared the angst of another close encounter.
Los Angeles has logged 14 games this postseason, and eight have ended 2-1. Since the Kings hail from America’s cradle of showbiz, they might feel the urge to keep you from touching that dial, even when they have the 1 and the opponent has 2. Stay tuned. You never know.
Until Brent Seabrook’s sudden breath winner against the Red Wings, Sutter was the last Blackhawk to score in overtime of a Game 7—1985 against Minnesota. He knows emotional highs and lows, though he expressed neither Saturday. Even if this evolves into a Quick series, it probably won’t be a short one.