The Chicago Blackhawks hadn’t played since Tuesday night, but they didn’t show much rust as they knocked off the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.
The two teams will have to wait until Wednesday to battle it out in Game 2, so for now, here are Sunday’s Three Stars.
Third Star: Nick Leddy
Leddy has caught a lot of flak over the past two postseasons for his shaky defensive play and his lackluster offensive production, but on Sunday afternoon, he at least provided the kind of punch on the power play that the team has been looking for.
In the first period, the Hawks picked up a power play when Brandon Bollig goaded Alec Martinez into cheap-shotting him. The Blackhawks did pick up quite a few scoring chances early in the sequence, with Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell both firing tough shots in on Jonathan Quick, but neither would go. Leddy then came out with the second power play unit and made a couple of key plays to get the Blackhawks the lead.
The first thing he did was make a nifty play to keep the puck in the zone on a clearing attempt by Los Angeles. He then took advantage of traffic in front of the net, blasting a low slap shot that Brandon Saad deflected in past Quick, and just like that the Blackhawks were up 1-0.
Too often the Blackhawks’ point men on the power play tend to just play catch at the blue line or shuttle the puck in deep instead of just getting shots to the net to take advantage of the screens that guys like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell are deploying. In this instance, Leddy recognized that Saad had good positioning and put a perfect shot through. He needs to keep doing that, and the Blackhawks’ point men need to take that as a lesson.
Second Star: Brandon Saad
We’ll more thoroughly document Saad’s day in a post later this afternoon, but the Hawks forward played a key role in the victory with his play on the first two Blackhawks goals.
On the first goal, Saad was the one who camped out in front of Quick and got a deflection to give his team the lead. On the Blackhawks’ second goal, scored by Duncan Keith, Saad made a nice move in the offensive zone to turn away from traffic, and he caught Keith trailing behind the play with a nice pass. Keith’s shot ended up bouncing off of Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll before beating Quick top shelf, and with about eight minutes to go in the second period, the Blackhawks grabbed a lead that they would never relinquish.
It’s been a rough year at times for Saad as he continues to get used to the NHL game, but over the past few weeks, he’s been playing much better hockey, and that’s a great sign for Chicago.
First Star: Jonathan Toews
It’s never easy for a player in the NHL to have a goal waved off, but if anything came of Toews’ goal being disallowed in the second period of Game 1, it was that the captain played the rest of the game with an enormous chip on his shoulder.
In 17:51 of ice time, Toews won 11 face-offs, had three shots on goal, blocked a shot, helped the penalty kill to a perfect day at the office, and ultimately scored the game-sealing goal late in the third period. That goal, which came on a 3-on-1 rush, was eerily similar to the one that Patrick Kane scored against these Kings in Game 5 of last season’s Conference Final.
On the play, the Kings’ defense had a significant breakdown in the neutral zone, and three Blackhawks jumped up into the play. Defenseman Johnny Oduya led the charge, and when he feathered the puck across to Toews, the captain didn’t miss on the one-timer as the Blackhawks took a 3-1 advantage in the game.
The whole play was a textbook example of how the Blackhawks can kill teams using their transition game, and if they can continue to execute on these types of plays, it’s going to be hard for any team to stop them, even a defensively gifted one like the Kings.