CHICAGO – Corey Crawford is playing so well right now that nothing seems to bother him. When the Chicago Blackhawks had a goal waved off in the second period Sunday, Crawford picked up the slack for his disappointed teammates.
Crawford made 25 saves, Jonathan Toews had a big goal in the third and the Blackhawks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1 in Game 1 of the Western Conference final.
“Confidence has always been there,” Crawford said. “Really the first thing is being prepared, having that preparation to try and have my game at the highest level it can be each time I get out there.”
He is on quite a roll right now, allowing only one goal in each of the past three games. The 29-year-old Crawford leads the NHL with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in the playoffs.
“He does a good job of never getting too high or too low because tomorrow’s another day,” teammate Brandon Saad said. “He did a great job tonight.”
Saad had a goal and an assist for defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, which remained perfect in seven home playoff games this year. Duncan Keith had a tiebreaking score in the third period.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday night.
Playing just two days after a Game 7 victory over Anaheim, the Kings got a second-period score from Tyler Toffoli and outshot the Blackhawks 26-20 in the opener of a rematch from last year’s Western Conference final. But Crawford made a couple of solid stops in another terrific performance.
“I think we can do a better of getting in front of the net and make it harder on their goalie because we had some pretty good shots, but nobody was hanging around, so he was able to see everything,” Kings centre Anze Kopitar said.
With the Blackhawks clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third, Toews, Marian Hossa and Johnny Oduya got loose on a 3-on-1 break. Toews one-timed Oduya’s pass right by Jonathan Quick for his sixth playoff goal at 16:10.
Quick made 17 saves after he played a key role in Los Angeles’ rally from a 3-2 deficit in the series against the Ducks. The Kings also battled back from a 3-0 hole against San Jose in the first round.
“We had a chance,” Los Angeles forward Mike Richards said. “We shot ourselves in the foot a bit on their goals, and give them credit, they’re an opportunistic team. But we made a couple of mistakes and it ended up in our net.”
Toews’ 26th career playoff goal came after he had one waved off in a confusing stretch in the second period.
It looked as if Chicago had a 2-0 lead when Toews’ rush to the net resulted in the puck going off the skate of Kings defenceman Slava Voynov and into the goal. But it was waved off after a conference by the officials, prompting a round of boos from the crowd of 21,832 and a waving, yelling display from Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville.
According to the NHL, the original call of good goal was changed because the officials decided Toews made incidental contact with Quick before the puck crossed the goal line. The league said the ruling was not reviewable, so the call on the ice remained in place.
The sequence seemed to wake up the Kings while deflating the Blackhawks. Los Angeles got its first goal about a minute later, with Tanner Pearson making a terrific pass to the middle to Toffoli for his fourth of the playoffs at 4:35.
“I thought we lost a little momentum there,” Quenneville said.
The Kings then had a couple of chances to take the lead, but Crawford stepped up each time. He denied Kyle Clifford on a 2-on-1 break with 13:42 remaining, and stopped Marian Gaborik and Dustin Brown in rapid succession midway through the period.
Crawford’s solid play bought Chicago some time to shake off the disallowed goal, and it paid off when Keith’s slap shot went off the stick of Kings forward Trevor Lewis and bounced past Quick for a 2-1 lead at 11:54.
Crawford made another big save on Jeff Carter in the first minute of the third, and Toffoli had a backhander go off the outside of right post on a breakaway opportunity in the final period.
The Blackhawks turned a bad roughing penalty by Kings defenceman Alec Martinez into Saad’s power-play goal with 5:14 left in the first. The Kings had a prime scoring chance with 2:42 to go in the period, but Nick Leddy tied up Richards at the end of a 2-on-1 break.
NOTES: Kings D Willie Mitchell was active for the first time since Game 6 of Los Angeles’ first-round series against San Jose, but D Robyn Regehr remained out with an injury. He has missed the Kings’ last seven games. … Chicago killed off two power-play chances and is 44 for 48 on the kill in the playoffs. … Blackhawks D Michal Rozsival was active after he was a healthy scratch for the last two games of their second-round series against Minnesota.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap