CHICAGO | Nine o’clock lightning finally sparked the United Center late Wednesday to brighten up a scrum of an opener of the Western Conference semifinals.
Blackhawks lesser luminaries Johnny Oduya and Marcus Kruger broke a low-scoring deadlock that had stood since the middle of the first period to give Chicago a 4-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
In a goalie duel between the Hawks’ Corey Crawford and the Wings’ Jimmy Howard, a bit of on-ice ballet was needed to cut the tie as the third period progressed.
Patrick Sharp, who later scored his sixth goal of the postseason on an empty netter, found defenseman Oduya with a pretty pass coming down the slot eight minutes into the period.
“You guys were beatin’ up on me at the start of the year when I wasn’t scoring; I was getting assists,” Sharp mused. “Now you’re telling me I’m scoring and not getting assists.
“It was the end of a shift and it was a long one. (I) was kinda tired there. (Patrick Kane) cycled it down to me and before the puck even to me, I saw Johnny break through … I just wanted to get it to him in his area and he made a great shot.”
Kane and Jonathan Toews have yet to score in any of the Hawks’ five playoff victories so far. Thus it’s up to supporting-cast types like Oduya and Kruger to pot some shots.
“He’s a good passer, so you usually don’t have to call for it when you’re that open,” Oduya said. “It worked out.”
Kruger scored just after three minutes later when the puck squirted out 10 feet amid a pileup near Howard. The fourth-line center pounced on it and easily powered the puck into the net.
Crawford continued his mastery of the Red Wings so far in the regular season and playoffs, allowing just six goals in five games overall. Damien Brunner scored the only Wings goal midway through the first.
Howard may have had the more impressive performance, having faced 42 shots to Crawford’s 21.
Marian Hossa scored his fourth goal of the playoffs, his postseason high with the Hawks and his second power-play score, midway through the first period.
“The pace was higher than the previous series (against the Wild),” Hossa said. “Against this team, you need to be better. It’s going to be a tough series.”
“As the game prolonged, I think we took over and we put more pressure on them,” Oduya said.
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville made a major lineup change. Third-line center Viktor Stalberg, designated an inactive in practice the previous two days, was a healthy scratch.
Center Dave Bolland came back from a groin injury to take Stalberg’s place on the third line. Andrew Shaw shifted from center to wing to accommodate Bolland, leaving Brian Bickell the only third-liner in his accustomed spot.