After telling anyone who would listen how nervous they would be for the first game of the playoffs, the Blackhawks came out as such. The Hawks spent more than half of the game searching for their sea legs. Passes were a bit off and their hands were as stiff as Pat Foley at a speed dating seminar.
Meanwhile, the Flames came out as world beaters. Everytime they had a chance, they finished their checks. Their defensive positioning suffocated any chances the Hawks may have had. Offensively, they swarmed Nikolai Khabibulin like bears on a minivan loaded with donuts.
When Jonathan Toews swept the puck away from an empty net, it looked like the Hawks were going to dodge a huge bullet, but the Flames came right back down and fired off about three point blanks shots before David Moss stuffed it past Khabibulin. From there, Calgary only brought more pressure. Khabibulin was better every time.
The game could have easily been over after the first if it wasn’t for the ‘Bulin Wall’. With three and a half minutes left in the period, Toews was called for 4 minute high sticking. Calgary had several glorious chances on the ensuing power play. The best came when Khabibulin wasn’t even required to make a save. Todd Bertuzzi cut to the outside and slid the puck across the slot. The puck went past two Flames cutting to the net and through the legs of Rene Bourque who had an empty net staring back at him.
About half way through the second, Coach Q made his first big adjustment of the series when he shook up the lines. Sharp was reunited with Kane and Toews. Marty Havlat played with Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg. Whether it was a direct result of the line changes or not, the Hawks looked to gain a bit of steam after.
It wasn’t until Cam Barker scored thirteen minutes into the second period, though, that the Hawks finally took a deep breath. When Toews found Barker at the top of the point, his first shot was blocked. He picked up the loose puck and then beat Mikka Kipprusoff short side on a harmless wrist shot.
Kipprusoff redeemed himself later when he stoned Patrick Kane on a partial breakaway with just a few seconds left in the period.
Going into the third period, Assistant Coach Mike Haviland said during his interview with Pat and Ed that they plan on playing smart, getting pucks deep, and not taking unnecessary pinches. Apparently, Barker didn’t get the memo.
While everyone was quick to spotlight Dave Bolland for making the silly pinch, it was Barker who should have given up the blue line. Instead, Bertuzzi sent the puck to Daymond Langkow who was off to the races with a 2-on-1 against Matt Walker. After Walker did the best he could to elminate the passing lane, Langkow made a terrific pass to Mike Cammalleri who buried his opportunity.
Then, Coach Q made his second adjustment. He re-united the HavBolLadd line to try and recapture the old spark. The idea turned to gold when Havlat took on three Flames and was able to fire off two shots, the second of which found the back of the net to knot the score at 2.
From there, it was all Hawks (save for one Calgary chance, more on that at the bottom). They had a ton of opportunities to end it in regulation. None better than with ten seconds left. When Brent Seabrook sent the puck cross ice to Dave Bolland, there was plenty of twine to aim for. Instead, Bolland held on a bit too long, and fired a shot off the Kipper’s leg.
It wouldn’t matter.
When the two teams came out for the overtime period, Bolland intercepted Jordan Leopold’s cross ice pass. He entered the zone, dropped a pass to Havlat. When Olli Jokinen took the wrong assignment and left Havlat with room, it was a deadly mistake as he slid the puck past a screened Kipprusoff for the game winner. Game over. Cue a screaming Pat Foley. Hawks up 1 game to none.
Leftover Thoughts from Game 1
–The Flames are going to have to dig really deep now. They played as sound of a game as they could for 55 minutes only to have it all slip away at the end. This was a far bigger game for them to win than the Hawks. Now they have to put forth the same type of effort if they want to sneak out with a win in Chicago.
–If the Flames are indicative of their head coach, they may not last long. Mike Keenan was babbling in his post game conference about Brett Hull, goaltender interference, and overtime goals. Memo to Mike, it’s not called interference if your defenseman shoves the player right into your own goalie. It’s called a bad defensive play.
–While everyone will be quick to re-annoint the HavBolLadd as our savior, Iginla is still too much to handle for Bolland in the defensive zone. Late in the third period, Calgary had their best chance when Jokinen fed Iginla in front. Iginla completely overmatched Bolland to get the shot off and if it wasn’t for Khabibulin’s rabbit out of the hat, the Flames very easily could have snuck out with the win.
–Good to see Patrick Kane respond from the Flames’ dirty deeds. Rene Bourque put a cheap shot on Kane in the second period. After he dumped the puck in deep, Bourque grabbed Kane with one arm and pile-drived him into the boards. Kane was slow to get up and a certain columnist was getting ready to scream for the Hawks to get an enforcer and insinuate Kane is soft. Instead, he came back, had several opportunties to score, and didn’t look the least bit hesitant in taking a hit.
–Not that it matters, but Khabibulin should have been the third star. He was the Hawks’ rock as they settled into the game. If it weren’t for him, Calgary would have won Game 1 going away.