In terms of Chicago’s playoff prospects, there are key questions to answer heading into Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Will Patrick Kane re-emerge to help Chicago push the Kings to the brink of elimination? Will the Blackhawks fill the void as Duncan Keith serves the only game of his suspension for high sticking Jeff Carter in Game 3? Can post-season surprise Bryan Bickell continue on this torrid scoring pace he’s set? Can the Hawks solve Kings netminder Jonathan Quick and notch a third win in LA before heading home to the imposing confines of Chicago’s United Center?
In the aftermath, the answers are yes, yes and yes across the board.
In spite of the fact that Darryl Sutter’s Kings appeared to be loaded for bear in the early going, the Blackhawks were unflappable. Slava Voynov’s early first period goal lifts the Staples Center crowd to its feet. This is a goal that should have rocked the Blackhawks back on their collective heels.
Out of a scramble near the Chicago goalmouth, Voynov grabs a nice little feed to the point, pulls to the middle of the ice to improve his angle and pounds it past Crawford. Tucked nicely inside the post, stick side. What a great shot. Nuke LaLoosh would say that Voynov “announced his presence with authority.” This is the start the Kings wanted in their attempt to battle back to even in this series. They came out strong, they pushed the pace early, they got on the board in the opening minutes and they appeared ready to give the Hawks all they could handle.
Chicago’s response, however, was not one of panic or deflation. Unfazed, Chicago simply went about its business, worked, generated a number of quality chances and, in about 10 minutes of playing time, they had something statistical to show for their efforts. Bickell beats Crawford at 13:16 of the first period to tie the game at ones. But there’s a key element to this goal.
It’s a substantial answer to the Kings opening goal because it comes rather close in time. Here, the Hawks effectively say they arrived at the rink on this particular night determined to secure a split during LA’s two game home stand.
What’s it all mean? Is the game over at this point? No, not by any stretch. But the opening period was just another example of that which Chicago has demonstrated throughout 2012-13 … the Blackhawks don’t lose unless they beat themselves on any given night. The first 20 minutes of hockey indicate this would not be one of those nights.
So as important as it was for Chicago to get affirmative answers to the questions discussed in the opening paragraph. The one noteworthy element to come out of Game 4 is something the hockey world has known all season long. If the Blackhawks come prepared to play their game, there is very little the opposition has to say about the outcome.
In Game 4, the Hawks give the Kings no reason to expect they’ll be anything short of ready for what little hockey remains in this series. Chicago appears braced to roll right over top of another good hockey team.
See you around the rink.