The Chicago Blackhawks took Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings in great fashion and look to repeat Saturday afternoon at the United Center.
After two hard-fought periods, Chicago’s defense stepped up and shut down Detroit, allowing only 21 shots on goal through the end of regulation. Four of Chicago’s defensemen averaged over 20 minutes of play and contributed to a tight blue line that Detroit just couldn’t seem to match.
“They were better than us,” said Detroit Head Coach Mike Babcock after the Wings’ 4 – 1 loss Wednesday night. “The score tonight was more than fair, as far as I’m concerned.”
Babcock attributed his team’s lack of hustle to an exhausting travel schedule and gave the team an opportunity to rest between Games 1 and 2. But they will be looking to improve on the energy that they started with in Game 1 and decrease the amount of defensive zone turnovers. The Wings failed to clear the puck time and time again, allowing Chicago to keep some pressure on Jimmy Howard and exhaust Detroit’s lines. In the third period, Chicago exploited that exhaustion and sprinted to the finish line with three goals in the last 12 minutes.
“Anyone could have scored at that point,” said Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya of his third period goal. “We had a lot of chances and I’m lucky I got it in there.”
Oduya has had a very successful postseason, leading the Blackhawks with 12 blocked shots and 7 takeaways. He has the ability to take control of the puck and used that to frustrate Detroit in Game 1.
Mostly frustrating to Detroit was the Power Play. Chicago went 3 – for – 3 on the Penalty Kill and is the only team in the postseason that has yet to allow a PP goal. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger have taken over the first line on the PK and have taken full advantage of the opportunity. Patrick Kane remarked at one point in the first round that Frolik smiles every time a PK opportunity comes up because he knows he’s up first. The energy and enthusiasm of he and Kruger contribute to the success of the PK, and a shorthanded goal in the Quarterfinals against Minnesota.
Patrick Sharp continues to light the lamp for Chicago, soaring to 9 points (6G, 3A) in 6 games. After a shoulder injury that sidelined him for a large portion of the second half of the season, Sharp returned to top form and can be lethal in all areas of the ice. He leads the Blackhawks in both shots and faceoff percentage, proving that he is a force to be reckoned with on the ice.
Corey Crawford allowed one goal on 21 shots in Game 1, but was never truly tested physically. Some great saves were present, of course, but Chicago did not allow many opportunities for Detroit to pepper Crawford. When shots were not blocked and made it through to Crawford, he soaked up rebounds to prevent second and third chances on the puck. He will continue to be the focus of Detroit in breaking down Chicago in Game 2.
Viktor Stalberg is questionable for Saturday’s game in Chicago after Head Coach Joel Quenneville benched him for a lack of production on the ice. Detroit forward Drew Miller is convinced he is ready to play Saturday, but Babcock has not given the go-ahead yet. Miller has been battling a hand injury. Daren Helm (back) and Danny DeKeyser (thumb) are not expected to play with continuing injuries.