The Chicago Blackhawks will aim for a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference finals, as they host the defending champion Los Angeles Kings in Sunday's Game 2 at United Center.
This best-of-seven series began Saturday in Chicago and the top-seeded Blackhawks earned a 2-1 decision to grab the early lead in this battle for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The fifth-seeded Kings won the franchise's first Stanley Cup title last spring, posting a 16-4 record en route to the championship. Since the start of last season's playoffs, Los Angeles has trailed in only two series and both occurrences have come this spring. Before losing Game 1 of this set, the Kings fell behind 2-0 to St. Louis in the opening round before winning four straight to take the series.
Chicago is in the conference finals for the first time since winning a Stanley Cup in 2010 and the club once again found a way to win a close game. Marian Hossa's tally late in the middle period was the game winner, sending the Blackhawks to a 2-1 victory over the Kings on Saturday and improving Chicago's record in one-goal games this spring to 4-1.
"It's always great when you win the first game, especially in a back-to-back, give you a little momentum," Hossa said. "I felt like we did lots of good things today."
Patrick Sharp registered the other goal for the Blackhawks, who were coming off an emotional 2-1 overtime victory to dispatch the rival Red Wings in a Game 7 on Wednesday. Chicago had trailed the series against Detroit three games to one before turning the tables.
Corey Crawford needed to make just 21 saves on Saturday to record his ninth win of these playoffs.
Justin Williams potted the lone score for the Kings, who fell to 1-4 in their last five games decided by one goal. The lone victory in the bunch -- a 2-1 decision in Game 7 over San Jose this past Tuesday -- landed the visitors in the conference finals for the second consecutive season.
"Scoring doesn't simply come from the offensive zone," Williams said. "It comes from being good in your own zone, breaking out together and scoring off the rush. We didn't have enough of that."
Jonathan Quick held up well in defeat, stopping 34 shots, but his teammates were held to two goals or less for the 10th time in 14 games beyond the regular season. The Kings fell to 8-6 overall in this postseason.
L.A. grabbed a 1-0 lead with 5:37 left in the opening period, but Chicago evened the score at 12:29 of the second, as Sharp followed up Johnny Oduya's left-wing shot and beat his defender to the puck before besting a diving Quick from the slot.
"That first shot is tough," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "You need traffic. You need a deflection. He finds a way to find pucks. I think the volume of shots and traffic is the only way to get to this guy."
The hosts then took a 2-1 edge as 3:38 remained on the second-period clock after Hossa's mid-air redirection of Duncan Keith's left-point offering settled home inside the far post.
"He's one of the fastest goalies in the league," Hossa said of Quick. "Whatever he sees, he's going to stop it. You have to have traffic in front of him, pin him in the blue paint, and put lots of pucks in the corners or in his feet and go for the second chances."
Even though L.A. drew first blood in Game 1, the Blackhawks outshot the Kings by a whopping 17-2 margin in the first period on Saturday.
"You give up 17 shots in a period, even if they're coming from outside or from the walls, it means you're not playing the right way, or playing much in their zone," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said. "We've gotta have more time in the offensive zone to establish our game. We've gotta put more pucks behind their defense and forecheck as units as five."
Kings forward Jarret Stoll returned to the lineup for the first time since suffering an apparent concussion when hit in the head by San Jose's Raffi Torres during Game 1 of the previous round.
This is only the second playoff encounter between the clubs and the first since the 1974 quarterfinals, when Chicago beat L.A. in five games.
The Blackhawks were 18-3-3 at the United Center during the regular season and are 7-1 as the host during the playoffs. L.A. struggled to an 8-12-4 mark on the road this season and has a poor 1-6 record as the guest in this postseason.