CHICAGO — Sure, the Chicago Blackhawks have no shortage of skilled forwards with a history of clutch goals.
Scoring against the defending champions isn’t easy, either.
The Los Angeles Kings found out just how difficult it can be during Sunday’s 3-1 loss in Game 1 of the Western Conference final, whether they were being stopped by goalie Corey Crawford or one of his teammates. The best-of-seven series continues Wednesday in Chicago.
“We had a lot of good opportunities,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said Monday. “I think you have to give Crawford a lot of credit.”
Crawford continued his strong post-season play with 25 saves in Chicago’s third consecutive win. He has allowed three goals during the win streak, and his 1.90 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the playoffs leads the NHL.
But it isn’t just the guy in net. Others are stepping up for the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks shut down the Kings’ top line of Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, who came in with 16 goals and 24 assists in 14 playoff games.
Kopitar entered the series with five goals and 14 assists, while Gaborik has a playoff-best nine goals. But they had little effect on Sunday’s game.
The Blackhawks had Jonathan Toews’ line matched against them on even-strength shifts until the final minute, and all those three could muster was a combined six shots.
“We had some success in their zone,” Gaborik said. “We want to keep them in their zone as much as possible and create chances. We had some zone time, but we have to generate more, too, to get to Crawford and to get some goals.”
Kopitar and Toews are finalists for this year’s Selke Trophy, given to the NHL’s best defensive forward. Toews won the award last year. Marian Hossa, who plays on the same line as Toews, also is one of the league’s best defensive forwards.
“I think both lines have all the ingredients that make them top lines, top lines throughout the league,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a good challenge for us. I think you’re just comfortable with it both ways. At the end of the day hopefully they can get the job done.”
Toews came through with a big goal in the third period after having one disallowed earlier in the game. Hossa had two assists, and the Blackhawks improved to 7-0 at home in the post-season this year.
“They’ve got top players, top scorers, on their first line,” Hossa said. “You want to make sure you know where they are on the ice. In Game 1, I thought we did a pretty good job. They still had some chances, but (Crawford) was great for us.”