Through 30 minutes of Sunday's Western Conference finals opener, the Blackhawks had been out-shot, out-hit and out-skated by the L.A. Kings. A Jonathan Toews goal was wiped off the scoreboard, the Kings flicked one past Corey Crawford and the United Center crowd's collective hands were awfully warm thanks to their comfy homes underneath their butts.
The 2012 champion Kings were just 38 hours and 2,000 miles removed from a Game 7, but they seemed primed for stealing home-ice advantage from the tentative Hawks.
And yet, there was never a point where I thought the Hawks would lose. Not once.
Right on cue, Duncan Keith unloaded a heavy shot from the blue line that ricocheted off a Kings stick, bounced off the ice like a hot grounder to shortstop and blasted into the net. Hawks lead, Hawks withstand a few more minutes of pressure, Hawks watch Kings get gassed, Hawks dominate the third period. See Hawks win, 3-1.
Although last year's regular season was flashier with its 24-game point streak, the 2014 postseason Blackhawks machine seems even more finely tuned than 2013's. Their top line has effectively erased the best players from the Blues, Wild and Kings. No goaltender has a better postseason save percentage or goals-against-average than Crawford. (None.) They pass both the advanced metric test and the eyeball test. Dream up some other test and they'd ace it, too.
The Kings are trying to become the first team to win a conference final after being stretched to seven games in their first two rounds. Oh yeah, they've got to beat the Hawks at the Madhouse to do that—which no one has done this postseason. Good luck.
Boston and Pittsburgh are gone, the top two regular-season teams in the East. And one of the two remaining (Montreal) just lost its all-world goalie (Carey Price). Barring multiple injuries to top-line stars or Crawford, the Hawks are probably going to win the Stanley Cup for the third time in five seasons.
Relish the hell outta these next few weeks, because sports dynasties come around only once per generation if you're lucky.
And if you're not a hockey fan, become one. Your Bulls stuff is red and black, right? Give a knowing head-nod to the guy in your office with the scraggly playoff beard. Throw a random high-five to the girl with the Hawks jersey at the train stop.
It's about to get fun in this town. Again.
RedEye special contributor Alex Quigley can be heard from 1-3 p.m. weekdays on 87.7-FM The Game.
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