CHICAGO – Marian Hossa winked when the television camera focused on him during the national anthem, a signal to his friends watching the game back home in Slovakia. Then he gave them something to cheer about.
Hossa tipped in the tiebreaking goal in the second period, helping the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Los Angeles Kings 2-1 on Saturday in the opener of the Western Conference finals.
Patrick Sharp also scored and Corey Crawford made 21 saves for the Blackhawks, who generated just enough offence to improve to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They also have won four in a row heading into Game 2 on Sunday.
“It’s always great when you win the first game, especially back to back, give you a little momentum,” Hossa said. “I felt like we did lots of good things today. We know we have to be better (Sunday) and keep doing those things.”
Jonathan Quick stopped 34 shots, and Justin Williams scored for Los Angeles, which has won just one of seven road games in the playoffs. The defending Stanley Cup champions got centre Jarret Stoll back from a suspected concussion, but their offensive funk continued.
“I think the two guys that scored for them are going to score goals,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “We have guys that have to score goals. That’s how close it will be.”
Los Angeles has scored 27 times in 14 playoff games. The last three have gone to Williams, who was responsible for the Kings’ offence in a 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of the second-round series on Tuesday.
“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.”
The Blackhawks and Kings returned to the ice after surviving strenuous second-round tests.
Top-seeded Chicago stormed back to beat Detroit after trailing 3-1 in the series, winning Game 7 on Brent Seabrook’s overtime goal Wednesday night. Fifth-seeded Los Angeles was pushed to the brink of elimination by the Sharks in a series in which the home team won every game.
For the first period and much of the second of the conference finals opener, Chicago looked hopeless against Quick and Los Angeles’ talented defencemen. Drew Doughty, Robyn Regehr and Co. kept the Blackhawks’ fleet forwards in check, and Quick made it look as if there was a white wall moving from side to side in net.
As they did against Detroit, the Blackhawks began to create more quality chances when they put more traffic in front.
With 7 1/2 minutes left in the second, Sharp skated into the zone, left the puck for Johnny Oduya and kept moving forward. When Quick kicked away Oduya’s slap shot, the puck went right to Sharp, who scored into the lower right corner to tie it 1-1 with his eighth playoff goal.
“That first shot against him 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 and traffic of shots is the only way to get to this guy.”
Sharp created another strong opportunity a few minutes later, but Brandon Saad shot wide right on a potential tip-in.
The Blackhawks kept up the pressure and went ahead when Hossa redirected Keith’s long slap shot out of the air at 16:22 of the second. The puck landed in the lower right corner again before Quick could find it in the maze of bodies near the net.
It was the sixth goal of this post-season for Hossa and the 42nd of his playoff career. The 34-year-old forward has at least one point in four straight games.
“If Quick’s going to see it, he’s going to stop it. If we can get a slight tip on it, I think it changes his view,” said Bryan Bickell, who earned an assist on the goal. “It was a nice tip by Hoss.”
Quick wasn’t made available to the media while the locker room was open after the game.
Los Angeles turned up the pressure at the beginning of the third, but Chicago killed off a power play. Crawford was solid after an early gaffe played a role in the Kings’ goal. He stopped Dustin Penner’s tip attempt with a little more than five minutes left, preserving Chicago’s lead.
Crawford has allowed just one goal in four of five games, playing a huge role as Chicago rallied to eliminate Detroit.
“We’ve got to forget about this one right now, for sure,” Kings centre Anze Kopitar said. “There’s some stuff that’s going to be addressed, what we have to do better in preparation.”
Chicago controlled most of the first period, using its speed and skill to keep the puck away from Los Angeles. The Blackhawks had nine shots on goal before Crawford was tested for the first time, grabbing Penner’s attempt with 8:11 remaining.
Quick turned away every charge at the other side, and Los Angeles made the most of its second shot after a couple of costly Blackhawks misplays.
After the puck was dumped into the Blackhawks’ zone, Crawford went behind the net to try to clear it away, but Brad Richardson jumped and knocked it in front. Dave Bolland tried to break up the play, but the puck went right to Williams, who beat Crawford to make it 1-0 at 14:23.
Most of Chicago’s shots in the first period came from the outside, and Quick had a clear lane for most stops. The 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP made 17 saves in the first 20 minutes.
“All in all we can be happy with the 60 minutes we played, but we know it’s going to be tougher as the series goes on,” Sharp said. “Every series we’ve been a part of gets more physical and more difficult as it goes on.”
NOTES: Stoll had been sidelined since he was struck with an illegal hit to the head by San Jose’s Raffi Torres in Game 1 of Los Angeles’ second-round series. … This is the second playoff series between the Kings and the Blackhawks. Chicago advanced in five games in the 1974 quarterfinals. … There was no shoot the puck competition after the second period, part of an NHL mandate designed to preserve ideal ice conditions.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap