CHICAGO – The Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings played Game 1 of a postseason series Wednesday night, and while this happening again is not impossible moving forward, the stakes will be much higher in the future.
"We don't mind playing them in the playoffs going forward," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said early Wednesday.
Not when, separated by a conference, the Stanley Cup would be up for grabs when they did.
As for now, it was merely a Western Conference semifinal matchup, with third-period scores from Johnny Oduya, Marcus Kruger and Patrick Sharp breaking things open for a 4-1 win and a 1-0 series lead.
A forecheck by Patrick Kane got the puck trickling to Patrick Sharp, who fed a wide-open Oduya in the slot. The Hawks defenseman walked in and rifled a shot past Jimmy Howard that nicked the iron before crossing in for the 2-1 lead at the 8:02 mark.
Not long after, the Hawks' fourth line provided some breathing room. Daniel Carcillo chased down a puck that was stuck in the goal netting and then poked it into the crease, where a scrum ensued. Kruger stood by as it trickled out and then flipped a backhander past Howard for a 3-1 lead at 11:23.
Sharp then netted an empty-net score at the 19:11 mark for the clincher.
A Marian Hossa power-play score followed by a Damien Brunner rebound blast less than 2 minutes later in the first period made it a 1-1 game, and that score held up well into the third period.
After a good 8 minutes without too many A-grade scoring chances, a hooking penalty to the Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist opened the door for the Hawks' previously struggling power play. With the Red Wings about to clear the puck, Sharp darted in from the blue line to jar it loose.
The puck tricked into open ice and onto Jonathan Toews' blade, and the Hawks captain sent a pass to a wide-open Hossa, who one-timed it past Jimmy Howard for a 1-0 lead at the 9:03 mark.
It was short-lived celebration. Brunner unfurled a shot on a rush into the Hawks zone that deflected off Brent Seabrook and right back to him, and the shot off his own rebound beat Corey Crawford to tie it 1-1 at the 10:57 mark.
The game ended a six-day layoff for the Hawks and therefore would test their ability to come out sharp at the United Center.
"It can go both ways," center Michal Handzus said. "You don't know if it's an advantage or not until you play the series and see how it goes. But it happens so many times that teams that had a lot of rest come out rusty, it happens the other way. You don't know. We try to get ready as good as we can. It's all mental in the playoffs. You have to be mentally ready for the start and get going."