Well, no one expected this to be easy. The Los Angeles Kings just completed a tough series against the Sharks, and while they had a few days off to recover and figure out how to approach the conference finals, it was apparent that the grind of these playoffs was going to affect LA for the rest of the season. The Chicago Blackhawks also played seven and had to recover from a 3-1 deficit to take down the Red Wings, but they had more jump and more energy today than the Kings did. Result: an embarrassingly lucky first 30 minutes eventually gave way to a 2-1 defeat in Game 1.
So... that first period. We've spent enough time on this site complaining after periods where the Kings threw 15 shots on net, didn't get any bounces, didn't score, and gave up a goal. This time, it went the other way. The Hawks got the first nine shots on goal and 17 overall in the first period. Of course, the Kings still had Jonathan Quick in net, and he kept the Kings in the game for quite some time. It helped that the majority of the Chicago shots were from the exterior; come to think of it, that sounds like a symptom of the Kings' own high-shooting scoreless periods from this season. But enough about what happened earlier this season. The playoffs are different, and they're going to be very different if the Kings keep playing periods like that one.
Given how uninspired LA looked in the first, the Kings were "fortunate" (Darryl Sutter's word, not mine) to take the lead early. Brad Richardson was one of the few Kings showing a spark in the first frame, and his aggressive forecheck helped generate a goal. Corey Crawford waited a little too long to get rid of the puck behind his own net, and Richardson blocked his attempted clear by leaping into the boards. The puck bounced to the front of the net, and Dave Bolland tried to clear through the middle, but the stick of Justin Williams deflected the puck past a scrambling Crawford into the net. Quick made the lead hold up by stopping the exterior shots and a couple closer ones; a blocker save on Patrick Kane at the eleven-minute mark was his best, and two Chicago power plays also went for naught. And that's how you lead a period after getting outshot 17-2!
The second period was a better one for the Kings in terms of generating shots, but in terms of scoring chances, things were even worse. Chicago started finding ways to get the puck into problem areas and continued to apply pressure on the forecheck, and LA struggled to exit the zone in response. Quick stopped a couple golden Bryan Bickell chances after Regehr waited too long, and Duncan Keith had a couple good looks after defensive zone errors. But the Hawks eventually found a way to beat Quick, and they did it by shooting low (take that, goaltending experts!) and forcing a big rebound. Michal Handzus passed out of his zone to Patrick Sharp, who dropped a pass to Johnny Oduya and took a low slap shot. Quick stopped it with his pad, but Patrick Sharp beat Drew Doughty to a juicy rebound and knocked it in to tie the game with 7:31 left in the second.
The Hawks scored again four minutes later, as Marian Hossa tipped in what would prove to be the game-winner. Chicago again beat LA to a few loose pucks, and Bickell set up a point shot from Duncan Keith. Keith's shot was tipped by Marian Hossa; Mike Richards tried in vain to move Hossa out from the front of the net, but Hossa got his stick on it and deflected it low past Quick. From there, the Hawks held on and Corey Crawford shut the door in the third period. The problem over the course of the night was clearly the Kings' inability to generate scoring chances; it wasn't hitting or faceoffs, as the Kings came out ahead in both departments.
However, the most crucial hit of the game came in the final minutes; Mike Richards and his line had a decent game in terms of keeping the shot battle close, but they were simply unable to finish chances. Richards had the puck behind the net and looked for a wraparound, but instead, Dave Bolland laid him out with a high hit, delivered back-first. The refs made no call despite a potential charge, as Bolland left his feet in the course of the hit and certainly went out of his way to do so. Richards was shaken up, and Jeff Carter immediately followed up by taking a tripping penalty with 1:41 to go. Game over.
Bolland is receiving no supplemental discipline for the hit, which isn't a huge surprise. Richards also seemed to be okay in the locker room, but regardless, lineup changes aren't out of the question with both Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez surely itching to get into the lineup. Would additional speed help? It certainly wouldn't make things worse than those first two periods looked to us, right? Anyway, Sutter's got a tough job regardless of what he decides to do with his lineup. Game starts at 5 PM tomorrow. Be here; steal one tomorrow, and the Kings are right back in the driver's seat.