For all the talk of the Blackhawks facing a destructive, physical Kings team in the Western Conference finals, it was the Kings who were missing players because of big hits.
For all the talk of the Hawks not faring well against bigger, tougher teams, it’s the bigger team that’s facing a tough two-games-to-none deficit.
For those of you scoring at home, that’s the Hawks playing their artful game better than the Kings have played their brain-bashing style, and that’s the Hawks playing the Kings’ banging style with greater results than the Kings have produced.
Kings No. 2 center Mike Richards couldn’t dress for Game 2 on Sunday after taking a vicious shot from Dave Bolland near the end of Game 1. Defenseman Jake Muzzin also sat out Game 2 after getting rocked by Viktor Stalberg.
Then the first period of Game 2 brought more pain to the Kings, as if the Hawks’ bookend goals weren’t enough.
Andrew Shaw chopped Brad Richardson and left him hobbling off the ice, then Bryan Bickell stuck out his leg and sent top defenseman Drew Doughty limping to the bench.
Neither move was clean, but the message was the Hawks weren’t going to play just pretty-boy hockey.
The Hawks outskated the Kings all weekend. They moved their legs and moved the puck. The Kings couldn’t get there fast enough to dole out their customary abuse. The offensive chances they’re used to creating aren’t there.
Neither are all their offensive players. Richards’ injury cost the Kings a player who had nine points in his last 11 games. His absence also gave the deeper Hawks a bigger offensive advantage against an offensively challenged Kings team that had scored the fewest goals in 14 games in league playoff history.
While the Kings were waiting for what remained of their top players to produce, the Hawks were getting contributions from their third line, their defense and even their power play.
The pinball that is Andrew Shaw took a spectacular backhand pass from Stalberg and snapped a shot that clicked off Kings defenseman Trevor Lewis’ stick and eluded Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick less than two minutes after the opening faceoff.
Then with less than two minutes remaining in the first period, the rejuventated Brent Seabrook pounded a slap shot past Quick to the far side.
By the time Bickell and Michael Handzus scored 2:09 apart in the second period, the faster and more skilled Hawks had more than enough.
Quick had had more than enough, as well. The intimidating Kings goalie was yanked 31 minutes into the game. The Hawks chased the best goalie in the playoffs. Pedigree was showing.
Remarkably, Quick allowed two clean goals off the first shot, which pretty much fills out the bingo card. The Hawks now have beaten Quick on the rush and on rebounds. They have beaten him after hard forechecking and with terrific transition play. They have beaten him early and late.
Whatever is required, the Hawks are making the tough, smart plays, and they are finishing, something that took them forever to do against a lesser goalie in the Detroit series.
That Detroit series changed everything. Being on the cusp of choking a championship season --- choking two rounds before the championship series --- indeed has a way of changing things.
The Hawks won the last three against the Red Wings and have stretched their winning streak to five after a weekend sweep of the Kings. They have scored 16 goals in that span. You have to go back about three weeks to count 16 Kings goals.
And look who’s scoring for the Hawks. During their streak, they have gotten three goals each from Shaw and Bickell. Handzus has as many as Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, and more than Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
The gap between the teams in speed and offensive talent was big at the start of this series, and it grows with each Hawks goal by someone other than Toews, Kane, Sharp and Hossa.
It further widens with each Kings injury, including one to Quick’s pride.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun