CHICAGO – After the Blackhawks seized a two-goal lead late in the third period Wednesday, 21,000-plus fans were ready to lose their voices for the remainder of the work week.
Now, what to scream?
Half of the crowd wanted to taunt a city almost 300 miles away.
Half of the crowd wanted to taunt an opposing goaltender a few hundred feet away.
The resulting cheer that echoed through the United Center sounded something like this: “DETROIT SU- HOWWARRD! DETROIT SU- HOWWARRD!”
It was music to the ears of Johnny Oduya, who scored the go-ahead goal in the Hawks’ 4-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. The Hawks grabbed a 1-0 series lead in front of 21,494 lunatic fans with Game 2 set for Saturday.
“It’s unbelievable,” Oduya said with a chuckle at the crowd. “It’s a full arena at the ‘Madhouse.’ ”
The Red Wings’ ears still might be ringing Thursday morning.
The top-seeded Hawks have made noise all season, so it’s only appropriate that the crowd followed suit by providing an ear-splitting soundtrack to the “Original Six” playoff matchup. Although the score was tied at 1 before Oduya ripped a shot past Jimmy Howard with 11:58 to go in the third period, the Hawks had dominated almost every aspect of the game up to that point.
That’s why Patrick Sharp remained patient despite enduring two intermissions with a tie score. Sharp created the Hawks’ first goal with a takeaway against defenseman Brendan Smith that led to a powerful one-timer by Marian Hossa, and Sharp created the Hawks’ second goal by finding Oduya in the slot for a rising wrist shot that beat Howard on his glove side.
Add in a late empty-netter, and it’s no wonder that Sharp was the No. 1 star of the game.
More importantly, Sharp said, the game marked the Hawks’ No. 1 performance of the playoffs.
“I think so,” Sharp said. “On the bench, in the locker room, I felt that we knew there was more of a sense of urgency today. We felt like we were skating better, playing more on the same page.
“[We were] not trying to create too much, just trying to work and create chances that way.”
Meanwhile, Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford was trying to figure out how to stay occupied.
Sure, Crawford made a few nice saves, stopping 20 shots while allowing only one to get past him. But for much of the game as the Hawks peppered Howard with 42 shots, including 36 in the final two periods, it seemed as if the Hawks’ goaltender could have completed a crossword puzzle while he stood by himself on the opposite end of the ice.
What’s a five-letter word for loser that starts with the letter ‘W’?
Oh, wait, I’ve got it: W-I-N-G-S.
“It was great,” said Crawford, who improved to 5-1 in the postseason. “For a lot of stretches there, for a long stretch, I didn’t have to do too much. I was more just mentally trying to stay in the game, stay on my toes, and make sure that I was ready if and whenever they did get a chance.”
After dominating for so long, it was only a matter of time before the Hawks clipped the Wings.
That went for the game, and it goes for the series.
Of course, the Hawks refused to take anything for granted in Game 1 or going forward.
“That’s the funny part about hockey,” Oduya said. “You can put up a lot of chances and feel like you’re going the right way, but all it takes is one play the other way or one bounce or whatever, and that momentum would have slipped.
“But I think we kept at it.”
Yes, they did.
And there’s no reason to believe that they’ll slow down anytime soon.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.