Blackhawks stick with plan to the end

CHICAGO -- It takes a certain amount of discipline to stick with the program when you’re trailing in a hockey game despite outplaying the opponent.

And it takes similar discipline not to try to put away a game with a man-advantage late in the third period.

The Chicago Blackhawks showed the necessary fortitude to accomplish both en route to their 2-1 opening-game victory over the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals Saturday afternoon.

“It was an injustice being down 1-0 [after the first period],” coach Joel Quenneville said after the game. “Make sure we don't get discouraged, find a way to persevere off the rush.”

An injustice might be an understatement. Tied 0-0 would have been understandable. That’s how good Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick played -- pretty much as advertised. But Los Angeles had no business leading 1-0 after getting two shots to Corey Crawford in the entire period. Neither was that dangerous, but one slid past him after a blown clearing attempt. Meanwhile, the Hawks were peppering Quick to the tune of 17 shots in the opening 20 minutes.

“We liked our first period, even being down 1-0,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “The guys came in the room, we liked our period. We wanted to have the same kind of period in the second.”

That doesn’t always happen, but the Hawks have been here before, as most veteran teams have. Getting outplayed and leading or outplaying the opposition and trailing. It happens in the NHL. The key is how you come out for the next period.

In the past, the Hawks might have tried to get fancy, out of frustration, in attempting to solve Quick. But that’s not what happened; just more shots and more crashing the net.

“You want to send the puck to the net whenever you can,” Patrick Sharp said. “We don't get caught up too much in statistics, shots on net.”

And that’s how the Hawks scored both their goals, the hockey gods paying tribute to the team that deserved it. If the Hawks had gotten frustrated, the game could have changed in the other direction.

“Obviously, it's not the score we'd like after a first period, but we knew there was a lot of hockey left to be played,” Sharp said. “We were happy with the way we played, other than that goal. But thought we did a good job just sticking with it, regrouping after that period, knowing that we had a pretty strong period. Just tried to keep going from that, stick with it.”

Mission accomplished on that end, but then came the final minutes of the game. It seemed like the Kings' only hope would come with a man advantage while Quick was on the bench for the extra attacker. A furious, playoff-intense finish was coming -- just as both teams had experienced in close games of their previous series. But after Jeff Carter took a tripping penalty, a calmness came over the game, especially on the Hawks side -- where the most important game of keep-away they’ve ever played took place.

“We burned a team on that a couple years ago, late in the third period there, so we know how that can go,” Seabrook said. “We just tried to pass the puck around and keep it out of their hands.”

There would be no short-handed goal to tie this playoff game. The Hawks actually burned two teams -- the Nashville Predators in 2010 and the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 -- with shorties to tie games late. But in each case, as you would imagine, the opposition opened the door for the scores. Not the Hawks. The instinct to score was surpassed by the instinct to win. In keeping the puck around the offensive zone perimeter, the Hawks ran out the clock like a football team with the lead.

“I think you can always use any little bit of experience to your advantage,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. “You know, as much as experience helps you, you still have to go out there and execute and perform.”

Trailing early, the Hawks performed and took the lead. Playing it safe late, they performed and held on to it. The Hawks deserved to win Game 1, and they did.