Upon further review, the clearest statement Sunday at the United Center came from the Chicago Blackhawks in a 3-1 victory over the Kings that left no ambiguity they are as strong mentally as physically.
Overcoming a bad official's call of a negated goal that preceded an even worse explanation from the league, the Blackhawks pooled their resolve and played a responsible two-way team game they will need to return to the Stanley Cup Final. Substance outweighed style for the Blackhawks in the Western Conference finals opener and, when that happens, they look even tougher to beat.
"You have to commend our players for not changing their approach in big games," Coach Joel Quenneville said. "There's always going to be adversity and you'll lose momentum in the course of the game. You've just got to get it back as quick as you can."
Embarrassing officiating put the Blackhawks in position to persevere.
At the 3-minute, 22-second mark of the second period with the Blackhawks leading 1-0, Jonathan Toews crashed into Kings goalie Jonathan Quick after attempting a shot. In the ensuing scrum, the puck bounced off Kings defenseman Slova Voynov's skate and into the back of the net. The official pointed to signal goal, the red light flashed and "Chelsea Dagger" blared. Then came a video review — or what the crowd of 21,832 and everybody watching at home thought was a video review.
When the goal was disallowed minutes later due to incidental contact with the goalie, Blackhawks fans went berserk and Quenneville sent NBC censors to the edge of their seats with a classic outburst lip-readers loved.
Quenneville showed more restraint after the game when asked about an explanation.
"I didn't get one right away, but a couple seconds later it was ruled incidental contact," Quenneville said.
Did you buy that, Coach Q?
"No comment," Quenneville replied in a tone that said everything.
Come to think of it, the NHL might have benefited from staying mum too. The league's clarification only created more confusion.
"The referee consulted video review to see if Jonathan Toews' initial shot entered the Los Angeles net," the statement read. "It was determined Toews' initial shot did not enter the net. The referee's original call on the ice was 'good goal' but a discussion between the on-ice officials resulted in a 'no goal' decision because Toews made incidental contact … before the puck crossed the goal line. This is not a reviewable play therefore the decision on the ice stands."
But the decision on the ice — a good goal — didn't stand. And according to NHL Rule 69.1, goalie interference or incidental contact "shall be enforced exclusively in accordance with the on-ice judgment of the Referee(s), and not by means of video replay or review."
Even if Toews did interfere with Quick — as it appeared — officials never made the call in real time and such a play isn't subject to the review that transpired. The officials later explained they determined incidental contact while huddling without consulting a replay — nobody told Quenneville — but why did an official put on headphones as if he was checking with Toronto?
Even the league's statement says the "referee consulted video review." If the goal wasn't waved off immediately, it never should have been.
Predictably, 73 seconds later, Tyler Toffoli tied the score for the Kings as the Blackhawks mourned their lost momentum.
"Maybe for a split second we [drifted]," Bryan Bickell said.
The letdown didn't last because goalie Corey Crawford wouldn't let it. While his teammates fumed, Crawford focused as the Kings unleashed 17 second-period shots. Which starting goaltender Sunday started in the Olympics?
"I should prepare more for these interviews so I have something original and more creative to say," Toews said when asked about Crawford. "He just seems to get better as the pressure mounts. It's an example the rest of us can follow."
That the Blackhawks did, recovering to resemble the best team remaining. The offensive contributions from defensemen Duncan Keith and Nick Leddy — who also saved a goal breaking up a two-on-one — showed scoring depth. The flow of the game on ice more open than it was against the Minnesota Wild suggested the pace of this series could favor the faster, freer Blackhawks.
Everybody raised their game a necessary level. Everybody played their roles, such as when Brandon Bollig performed his well enough to receive an Emmy. Bollig drew a pivotal penalty in the first period by flopping after Kings defenseman Alec Martinez foolishly pushed him after the whistle. On the resulting power play, Brandon Saad gave the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead, redirecting Leddy's shot from the deep slot.
Everybody knew better than to let one lousy call define Game 1.
"It's just the way our team is," Saad said. "We have a lot of character guys."
On that, the evidence was irrefutable.