Blackhawks start series with complete effort, skate past Wings - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Hawks start series with complete effort, skate past Wings 4-1

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

The Chicago Blackhawks captured Game 1 versus Detroit with 60-minutes of effective hockey. In what was their most dominant playoff performance, the Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 4-1. The score would have been more lopsided if not for a strong game by Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. His play kept the contest close until the midpoint of the third period as the relentless effort by the Hawks proved to be too much.

The Blackhawks did not come out as they did in the series opener versus Minnesota where they did just enough to win. On Wednesday night they were a more determined group that kept to the script and played a fast-paced puck possession game. It is a blessing to have time off between a series but a six-day break can sometimes cause a team to grow stale. The Blackhawks proved to be dialed in from the opening puck drop as being the more rested team worked to their advantage.

A fear Joel Quenneville must have had coming into this series was Detroit would be able to steal Game 1. Following the game, Red Wing head coach Mike Babcock mentioned he thought his club could get the jump on the Hawks in the opener. What proved to be correct is the Wings ran out of gas as the game wore on and the Hawks got better. The shot totals were indicative of the better club as Chicago outshot Detroit 36-14 over the final two periods.

Beyond the imbalance of shots on goal there were many more scoring chances generated by the Blackhawks. After the opening period the Red Wings were forced to chase the puck. The Hawks were led by their better players and had a lot of offensive zone time. They were able to stay on the attack and take advantage of some poor defensive coverage by the Red Wings.

Once again Patrick Kane was not credited with a goal and neither was Jonathan Toews. Both players were very noticeable, especially Kane who in the second period had the puck on his stick for much of the time. Toews continues to work hard and get to the net. He also made a slick pass to Marian Hossa for the first goal of the game.

Hossa had another fine outing as he continues to find the puck and deliver accurate strikes toward the net. The duo of Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival had another top performance as well. Rozsival finished a +2 and Oduya scored a big goal in the final frame to get the Hawks the lead and they never looked back.

Special mention should go to Patrick Sharp as he led the Hawks with a three point night and seven shots on goal. Sharp is often overlooked, and in some ways is considered a fourth wheel in Chicago. His teammates and management don't consider Sharp in the same way. Hossa, Kane and Toews may get more ink but Sharp is one of the top snipers in the game.

Beyond Sharp's ability to score goals his best attribute could be his tenaciousness. There probably is not another true goal scorer that can win more board battles than Sharp. He plays bigger than size and simply outworks opponents to hunt down pucks. In many ways he is the perfect sidekick for Kane.

Sharp had an injury riddled season and recorded only six goals in 28 games. After scoring an empty net goal Wednesday night, Sharp notched his team leading sixth goal of the playoffs. Sharp is a streaky scorer but he brings a consistent effort game in and game out and is a Blackhawk leader.

It has to give Hawk fans a good feeling to see Marcus Kruger score a goal. Kruger is another player who brings a top effort every night. Wednesday night he was going to the net as he should and was able to give the Hawks a big two goal lead. Kruger and Michael Frolik lead the Hawks penalty killing unit which has not been scored on in the postseason.

The Blackhawks did manage one power play goal but they still seem to be searching for the correct formula with the man advantage. At least they took advantage of some poor coverage by Detroit on their first power play attempt.

Dave Bolland returned to action to center the third line. He aggravated the Wings and was credited with four shots on goal. Bolland along with Bryan Bickell and Andrew Shaw were not very noticeable for much of the game. They did have a nice a shift in third period, but Bickell and Shaw were not credited with a shot on goal.

Viktor Stalberg was a healthy scratch and Dan Carcillo replaced him in the lineup. Carcillo played only nine shifts and his 6:04 of ice time was the least of any payer.

With Bolland back as the third line center that meant Michal Handzus skated as the second line pivot. Handzus did manage to win seven of eleven faceoffs, but trying to cover Pavel Datsyuk is not an easy task. Datsyuk was open at times but failed to get any shots on net.

It remains to be seen if Handzus will stay in a second line role as Quenneville has options and may find a place for a healthy Stalberg. Playing against the up-tempo Red Wings seemingly would fit the high flying Stalberg. I will have more to say in Al's Shots as to why he was a healthy scratch.

The long stretched out schedule for this series probably benefits Detroit more than Chicago. After winning on home ice it would have been better for Hawk players to get back to work on Friday. Instead the travel-weary Red Wings get more time to rest and regroup before a Saturday matinee takes place. If this series goes a full seven games it will not end until May 29.

Quenneville can't change the schedule but he will make sure his team doesn't lose focus.

Al's Shots

Quenneville doesn't normally change a winning lineup. I found it odd he would mess with his third line combination, which was the most consistent group versus the Wild. Stalberg being benched had little to do with his on-ice performance.

When word came out Stalberg wasn't skating with his usual linemates at practice this past week, I thought Coach Q. was looking to get his attention. In some ways it appeared Quenneville was looking to manufacture some drama. He knew the Hawks would need a better effort to start this series and wanted to fine-tune their focus, at least that is what I thought.

Stalberg's ice time in Game 5 did not reflect a coach who was dissatisfied with his effort. Stalberg actually played a little longer that game than Bickell who had a great series, as did the entire third line.

So it seemed like there was more to Stalberg's situation than could be blamed on a poor performance.

A story was reported on Wednesday that Quenneville and Stalberg had some words. My first indication of a confrontation in Game 5 concerning Stalberg's role etc., came from the Tribune's Chris Kuc via Twitter. Wednesday night I heard similar, Stalberg basically talked back to his head coach in a way no player should.

Supposedly at some point on the bench in Game 5 Stalberg snapped at Quenneville, which is wrong on every level. Quenneville has a great deal of experience and a couple of Stanley Cup rings, so even a seasoned veteran would not bark back. No NHL player should show up a coach in front of the entire team.

In my view hockey is a different sport, there is normally a great deal of respect shown toward a head coach. Younger players are respectful toward veterans as well, that's the way a team's hierarchy works. I can't be sure what Stalberg said but there is little doubt he was out of line.

Quenneville can't lose the respect of his entire squad and Stalberg forced him to make a difficult decision.

If the Hawks lost Game 1 many would have blamed Quenneville for letting his ego get in the way. By doing nothing Quenneville could have lost the respect of the entire group and there is no way he could take that chance, so Stalberg sat. A tough choice no doubt but a head coach has to be in charge.

As it stands Stalberg will have to wait until Quenneville feels he has been punished enough. Maybe Stalberg dresses on Saturday, maybe not. I do know the Hawks would be a stronger group with Stalberg in the lineup.

Quenneville knows the same but he also realizes respect is a must.

I will be back on Sunday and you can follow me on Twitter @AlCimaglia.

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