So after nine days off since eliminating the Minnesota Wild, the Blackhawks finally got back into game action this afternoon against the Ducks. Many people wondered whether the long layoff would help or hurt the Hawks, and I think it’s safe to say after one game that it did not hurt them. You may look at the score and see that Anaheim won the game by a score of 4-1, but that isn’t an accurate reading as to how this first game actually went.
The first period was absolutely dominated by the Hawks. They were faster, smarter, and simply better than Anaheim in almost every facet of the game. Yet Hampus Lindholm converted on a nice set-up by Jakob Silfverberg to put Anaheim on the board just under nine minutes into the game. After the first period, the Ducks led 1-0, but were being outshot 16-7.
The second period saw a lot of the same. The Blackhawks controlled the play, put Frederik Andersen under some intense pressure, and didn’t allow many chances for the Ducks. However, after David Rundblad failed to clear the puck from the Hawks’ zone, Kyle Palmieri scored to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead with 15:43 left in the period. Then with under a minute remaining in the second, Brad Richards made a nice play to strip the puck from Francois Beauchmin at the Anaheim blue line and proceeded to skate in on Andersen and score. This was a huge goal at the time as it put the Hawks within one heading into the third.
In the final period, Anaheim slowed the game down a bit and never really gave the Blackhawks much to work with at even strength. The Ducks would end up getting goals from Nate Thompson and Jakob Silfverberg (empty netter) to seal the deal.
So, what should we take away from the first game of this series?
- First and foremost, the Blackhawks were the better team in Game 1. They dominated most of the game and forced Frederik Andersen to make some unbelievable saves, which he did. If the Hawks can control the games moving forward like they did today, they’ll see some better outcomes. It’s not often that a team gets outplayed like the Ducks did and wins.
- The Hawks MUST get better on the powerplay. They were 0-3 in the game, including two straight powerplays at the beginning of the third period while only down one goal. They generated a few nice chances while on the man advantage, but for the most part weren’t getting much going. They need to quit trying to make the perfect passes and simply shoot the puck. Get some rebounds out of Andersen and knock home a dirty goal. The playoffs are all about getting the “greasy” goals from in front of the net.
- Anaheim’s top line of Maroon, Getzlaf, and Perry was relatively quiet in Game 1. Yet they still won the game. If the Blackhawks continue keeping the Ducks’ top line off the score sheet, they should be alright. That doesn’t mean they can forget about Anaheim’s bottom two lines. Those lines haven’t produced much in the playoffs, but they did today and have the potential to do it again.
- The Blackhawks got some solid play out of all of their forward lines today. The only problem was that they simply couldn’t catch a break. While I don’t think it’s necessary for Quenneville to panic and start switching up the line combos, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do so if Game 2 starts off on the wrong foot.
- Kyle Cumiskey should start preparing as though he will be dressing on Tuesday night. David Rundblad got beat on the Ducks’ first goal and then turned the puck over in his own end leading to Anaheim’s second goal. It was a pretty awful first 30 minutes of the game for him. He did make a couple nice plays after that, but his tendency to commit costly turnovers is so obvious that Quenneville would be totally justified in benching him. Cumiskey played great down in Rockford this season and brings a ton of speed to the back end. This is something to keep an eye on.
- Lastly, I thought Corey Crawford was fine today. He never really saw the first goal and had no chance on the second. The third could have been stopped, but again it was not an easy save to make. As long as Crow makes the necessary saves, the Hawks should still be alright.
Overall, I wouldn’t get too worried about this loss. The Blackhawks were the far better team. If they keep turning in performances like this one, they’ll see some victories pile up. Their goal in heading out to California was to win one of the first two games. That can still happen on Tuesday. And judging by how hostile the Honda Center was today, let’s just say the atmosphere shouldn’t do anything to impede the Hawks from winning a game out there (I’ve never head an NHL arena so quiet for a playoff game. There are stadiums around the league that are three times louder for regular season games.).
Game 2 is Tuesday. The Blackhawks need a victory, and I’m rather confident they’ll get it.