How good has Corey Crawford been in front of his home crowd this postseason? In seven games at the United Center, Crawford has allowed the following goal totals: 0, 3, 1, 2, 1, 1 and 1, good for a stellar 1.25 goals-against average and .957 save percentage. In Game 1 of the Western Conference Final against Los Angeles on Sunday, Crawford was masterful yet again, turning aside 25 of 26 shots by the Kings, including 16 of 17 in the second period. His 1.90 overall GAA paces the league, and he ranks second with a .933 SV%. Another solid start from Chicago’s No. 1 netminder on Wednesday would send them halfway to another Stanley Cup Final appearance.
The Blackhawks were not shy about activating their blue line in the first round of the playoffs, but production by the team’s defensemen dropped during the second round, combining for just 10 points against Minnesota compared to 23 in the previous series against St. Louis. In Game 1 against L.A., Chicago’s d-men found their attacking groove once more, contributing on every goal in the 3-1 result. Duncan Keith’s tally at 11:54 of the second period—his third of the postseason—stood as the game-winner, Nick Leddy posted a power-play helper in the first period, and Johnny Oduya sent a pinpoint pass to Jonathan Toews after joining an odd-man rush, allowing the captain to net an insurance goal late in the third. Continuing to get offensive contributions from the blue line will be crucial for the Blackhawks as they continue to go up against the notably stingy Kings defense.
As expected, the top lines for both teams—centered by Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar—were locked in perpetual battle in Game 1, forcing depth players to find a competitive edge and create breakthroughs. Enter 22-year-old Tyler Toffoli, whose tip-in goal was the only blemish against the Blackhawks on Sunday. He could have added a second after deking Crawford during a breakaway chance, but fortunately for Chicago, Toffoli's backhand attempt skimmed off the post. The Kings’ high-energy second line, featuring Toffoli, Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, posed a dangerous threat all game, combining for 10 shots on goal and 17 shot attempts. Toffoli ranks sixth on L.A. with eight points (4G, 4A) in 15 games, and his two game-winners pace the Kings.
Brandon Saad was limited to just three points in six games against Minnesota in the previous series, but put forth a strong effort in Game 1 on Sunday while skating on the second line with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane. Saad opened the scoring with a power-play goal after getting space in front of L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick and deftly tipping in Leddy’s point shot. He then provided the primary assist on Keith’s game-winner in the second period, marking his third multi-point outing of the 2014 playoffs.
Marian Hossa is well on his way to compiling his most successful playoff run since joining the Blackhawks in 2009: He currently leads the team with 13 points (2G, 11) in as many games, just three less than the mark he set in 22 games last year. The Slovakian native posted a pair of helpers in Game 1 and shares the team lead with four multi-point outings (Seabrook also has four in the postseason); he is the only player on the team—and one of five in the league—with multiple three-point games. Hossa ranks third in the NHL with 50 shots on goal, despite scoring just two goals, which suggests even better production going forward: If he were scoring at a 12.4 percent clip like he did during the regular season, he would have at least six tallies, which would tie him for the team lead.
Game 1 was an exercise in patience, as both head coaches stuck to their desired matchups and neither side conceded extended zone time all that easily. The Blackhawks came out on top by managing to score a goal in all three periods, despite withstanding a furious Los Angeles forecheck in the second period that generated 17 shots against. Expect the chess match between Darryl Sutter and Joel Quenneville to continue in Game 2; Toews, Hossa and Bryan Bickell will likely be stapled once more to Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown, who were held without a point in Game 1, but generated six shots (none by Kopitar). Somewhat surprisingly, L.A. leads remaining teams in the postseason with 3.07 goals per game, so limiting the Kings’ scoring chances will be a priority—even with the dominance Crawford has shown at the UC.