MUSICK: Red-hot Hawks gathering steam
CHICAGO – So far, so good for the Blackhawks.
No, I take that back.
So far, so great. So far, so wonderful. So far, so super-duper-fantastic-downright-brilliant.
Not even a psychic with the world’s most powerful pair of binoculars could have seen this coming. The Hawks dominated the Los Angeles Kings for a 4-2 win Sunday at the United Center to increase their series lead to 2-0 in the Western Conference finals.
Who could have expected a playoff win to look so easy?
“I don’t think it was easy,” Hawks forward Brandon Saad said.
Well, it sure looked easy.
Remember Jonathan Quick, who entered the game with a 1.54 goals-against average?
Remember the Kings’ trapping defense that could slow the pace of the game to a crawl?
Remember when Hawks playoff games featured more tension than a celebrity marriage?
That was so two days ago.
Everyone – Hawks coaches and players included – expected the Kings to deliver a difficult counterpunch a little more than 24 hours after their hard-fought loss in the series opener. As the reigning Stanley Cup champions, the Kings knew a thing or two about overcoming adversity.
“They’re going to be much better than they were [in Game 1],” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews predicted several hours before Sunday’s game. “We’ll be ready for that.”
Yet it was the Hawks who clenched their sticks and landed blow after blow in Game 2. The first player to score was Andrew Shaw. The second was Brent Seabrook. The third was Bryan Bickell. The fourth was Michael Handzus.
All of this happened, by the way, before the game was halfway finished.
Who was this masked man in front of the Kings’ net? Had a group of Hawks fans kidnapped the real Quick on Sunday morning and replaced him with ex-Hawks paper bag Cristobal Huet?
Whatever the case, the person wearing Quick’s No. 32 sweater was yanked off of the ice and replaced by backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier with 10:40 remaining in the second period. A sellout crowd of 21,824 roared as Quick-Huet completed the march of shame to the Kings’ bench.
“I don’t think he’s done that in awhile,” Hawks forward Bryan Bickell said.
Not in the playoffs, that’s for sure.
After Quick’s exit, the rest of the game consisted of a cruise-control countdown to victory. The Kings chipped at the deficit with a goal in the final 63 seconds of the second period and another goal in the final 62 seconds of the third period, but the outcome never was in doubt.
Now comes the hard part.
The next two games of the series will shift to Los Angeles, where the Kings are undefeated in seven games in the playoffs. Everyone in the Kings’ locker room believes that they can defend their home ice to even the series, 2-2, and create a best-of-three series for the right to advance.
Maybe the Kings are correct.
But if the first two games have proved anything, it’s that the Hawks have rediscovered their mojo. Since falling behind, 3-1, in the Western Conference semifinals against the Detroit Red Wings, the Hawks have reeled off five consecutive wins while outscoring their opponents, 16-8.
“I think we’ve got confidence now,” Shaw said. “We’re playing the game we need to play: physical, high speed, putting pucks to the net with traffic.
“I think if we keep doing that, good things will come from it.”
Really good things.
• Northwest Herald sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.