CHICAGO | Forget the “Madhouse on Madison” moniker for the United Center.
Now it’s Bloody Nose Alley.
The Blackhawks will have to out muscle the Los Angeles Kings to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
They did so to win Saturday’s Western Conference final opener, scoring a 2-1 victory that was earned as much by elbow grease as it was by Patrick Sharp’s rebound from the slot and Marian Hossa’s nifty tip of a Duncan Keith arrow.
Those goals came in the second period, but only after each player had worked to find room in the slot. In Hossa’s case, the deflection that beat Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick came some three feet above the ice, the crafty Slovak edging the puck past Quick off the bottom of the shaft of his stick.
“It’s going to be a series of ugly goals,” said Hossa, who winked at a television camera before the game, knowing his old pals back home would be watching in the wee hours.
His goal was a thing of beauty and held up as the winner only after another 23:38 of play. But ugly, using the White Sox definition of winning, can fairly be appended to the rest of the play. And that’s just fine with the Hawks.
Take Dave Bolland. He was in the slot in the first period, fanning at a loose puck that goaltender Corey Crawford had misplayed behind the net. Los Angeles’ Brad Richardson shoved it into the slot, and when Bolland missed, Justin Williams did not, giving the Kings a 1-0 lead at 14:23.
It was on the scoreboard, but the Hawks had to erase it from their minds.
“Kind of a gimme," Bolland said, "but you put that behind you and move on."
Fast-forward to the third period, where Bolland finds Mike Richards near the Chicago net. One bruising check later, Bolland’s back scraping across Richards’ forehead, Richards was road kill, after which Jeff Carter, taking umbrage of his teammate getting roughhoused, tripped Bolland.
While some Kings watchers thought Bolland should be suspended because Richards’ head was down and Bolland’s right skate was off the ice, the Hawks went on the power play, but, with 1:41 left and nursing the lead, they played keep away instead. The tactic worked, assuring the Hawks a 1-0 series lead entering today’s second game.
“It’s a quick game, a hard-hitting game,” Bolland said. “You get hit. It happens. It’s happened to me.”
Indeed, the Kings outhit the Hawks 44-38 for the game, but that meant as much as the Hawks’ 17-2 shot advantage in the first 20 minutes.
Like an abstract painting, it was interesting, but had no connection to reality.
What did was how the Hawks stuck to their game even as the bodies were flying.
“I think you expect that,” Patrick Kane said. “Kinda (have to) fight for our space. They definitely come at you, finish their checks.”
The Kings, in contrast, faded. Jarret Stoll wasn’t his old self in his first game back after missing the last six games of the San Jose series with a concussion, and neither Richards, before or after Bolland’s hit, nor Anze Kopitar did enough to make a highlight reel either.
“We had guys fall off,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter admitted. “Shifts fell off, primarily from the top end of our lineup. It’s tough to sustain it.”
Sutter juggled lines in the third period, but the Kings managed only eight shots in the final 20 minutes.
The Kings used grit and crafty play making, plus Quick’s imitation of a brick wall, to win the Stanley Cup last year, and in similar fashion outlasted the Sharks in seven games to advance to the Western Conference Final while the Hawks were surviving seven games with Detroit. The grind will go on.
“There weren’t a whole lot of scoring chances from each side,” said Sharp, whose rebound of Johnny Oduya’s shot from the left side, tying the game 1-all, barely eluded Quick. “Every series gets more physical and intense as it goes along; probably going to see a lot more of that going forward.”
Probably? Bet more on that than not being able to hear the National Anthem before Game 2.