Hawks strike first, take Game 1 against Red Wings

Hawks strike first, take Game 1 against Red Wings
May 15, 2013, 9:30 pm
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Game Date Location Time/Result
1 Wed., May 15 United Center (W) 4-1
2 Sat., May 18 United Center (L) 4-1
3 Mon., May 20 Joe Louis Arena (L) 3-1
4 Thurs., May 23 Joe Louis Arena L 1-0
5 Sat., May 25 United Center W 4-1
6* Mon., May 27 Joe Louis Arena TBD
7* Wed., May 29 United Center TBD
* If necessary | All times Central
I’m not a sniper, so I don’t pick corners. Trying to get a good shot off, that’s the only thing that’s on your mind.
—Johnny Oduya, on his third-period goal which propelled the Hawks to a 4-1 win

Faster skating, dictating the tempo more, firing a plethora of shots at the opposing goaltender: that is Chicago Blackhawks hockey. And it was more evident Wednesday night than in any other postseason game they’ve had thus far.

Patrick Sharp had a three-point night and Johnny Oduya scored the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1, in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Blackhawks struck first, shaking off the rust from a six-day layoff and upping the intensity and pace as the game continued.

In their first six postseason games, this one definitely stood out.

“I thought that was probably our best game of the postseason so far,” said goaltender Corey Crawford, who stopped 20 of 21 for the victory. “We had a lot of pressure, put lot of pucks on net and we were skating great. It was one of our better performances.”

[WATCH: Coach Q says everybody contributed in Wednesday's Game 1 victory

It was hard to argue with the assessment. The Blackhawks preached throughout the first round that they lacked the right intensity and pace, and still hadn’t come close to playing their best. Save some sluggish moments in the first period, they were pretty darn close to that on Wednesday.

“Much better from our prior series, and what we were talking about in our team game was in place,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had some pace, had some speed and some zone time and everybody contributed. Obviously you get scoring chances, you can draw penalties, get second opportunities and you can tire them out. That’s easier said than done, but certainly you’re on an advantage if you get more zone time. The last series we didn’t get much. Let’s look forward to trying to get more.”

After a pretty even first period in which Marian Hossa scored a power-play goal and Damien Brunner tied it less than two minutes later, the Blackhawks took off. They brought the pressure on the Wings and especially Jimmy Howard, who withstood that pressure for a good amount of the game. Howard finished with 38 stops of 41 shots.

[RELATED: Sharp says the Blackhawks just stuck to their game

In the third, the Blackhawks broke through. Johnny Oduya rung one off the frame and past Howard for a 2-1 lead the Blackhawks would never lose. For Oduya, it was shoot first and think later.

“I’m not a sniper, so I don’t pick corners. Trying to get a good shot off, that’s the only thing that’s on your mind,” Oduya said. “We felt this was our game and we really wanted to win it. Even after that goal we kept going instead of sitting back.”

Indeed, about 3 ½ minutes later Marcus Kruger lifted a backhand over Howard for a 3-1 lead. Sharp added his sixth goal of the postseason, an empty-net effort here, with 48.8 seconds remaining in regulation.

Crawford had a solid game on a night that defense was stellar. The Red Wings didn’t cultivate much and defenseman Brent Seabrook was there to knock away a late Brunner shot that hit off the crossbar and was falling toward the goal line.

[WATCH: Complete team effort gives Blackhawks' Game 1 victory

“It was really nothing much,” he said. “Crow made the initial save and it sort of felt like it was going in slow motion. [The shot] was spinning and luckily it hit the crossbar. It kept spinning down and I just tried to get my stick on it. Luckily I hit it and it went underneath Crow, so they didn’t get another chance at it.”

Crawford was grateful.

“That guy has made so many plays for me, blocking shots, tons of stuff that people don’t notice. He saved my butt on that one at the end,” he said. “Just another great play by him.”

The Blackhawks played Blackhawks hockey on Wednesday night. They were sharper, faster and more determined. Now they have to keep it up against a Wings team that’s going to be desperate to steal one in Chicago.

“On the bench, in the room, it felt like we knew there was more of a sense of urgency today,” Sharp said. “We felt we were skating better. We were playing more on the same page, not trying to create too much, just working and creating chances that way.

“We can still play better,” Sharp said. “and hopefully we can do that down the stretch.”