Blackhawks vs. Red Wings: Chicago takes series lead with Game 1 win

USA TODAY Sports

Despite a strong effort from goaltender Jimmy Howard, the Detroit Red Wings were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal.

Through the first 20 minutes of the Western Conference Semifinal, the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings appeared evenly matched in their final first meeting as conference foes.

By the final 20, the Blackhawks displayed why they're revered as the best team in hockey. Compiling three goals in the third period, Chicago managed a 4-1 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night.

Despite the lopsided final score, Detroit held their own for a majority of the game. The Red Wings managed to neutralize Marian Hossa's opening tally with a Damien Brunner goal that came under two minutes later. In fact, Detroit actually outshot Chicago, 7-6, in the opening frame. However, it was one of the few advantages they could claim by the end of the contest.

Through the final 40 minutes of the game, the Red Wings only compiled a total of 14 shots on goal. Chicago not only outshot them in the last two frames, but the individual totals in the second (17) and third (19) periods were more than the Red Wings' combined total over that span.

This made the play of Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard all the more important.

While Howard was pegged with the loss and three goals against (the fourth goal came on an empty net), the goaltender registered an impressive showing in Game 1, which likely would have been the main storyline had Chicago not taken the lead at the midway mark of the third period. Compiling 38 saves in the contest, Howard displayed why the organization was willing to sign him to a six-year, $31.75 million contract extension by keeping Detroit within striking distance through the majority of the game.

Ultimately, the goalscoring wasn't there and it certainly didn't help that Chicago limited their chances.

Corey Crawford stopped all but one of the 21 shots he faced and the Blackhawks were credited with 11 takeaways compared to the Red Wings' four. Despite an equal number of power play opportunities (three), Chicago managed to capitalize on their first attempt (Hossa's goal) and neutralize all of Detroit's.

The Blackhawks also applied a great deal of pressure on the Red Wings and it's the reason they managed to breakthrough in the final frame. Johnny Oduya's game-winning goal came as a result of an extended attack that opened space for the defenseman to leave the point and attempt a shot from the top of the face-off circle. Marcus Krueger's insurance goal three minutes later was the result of a successful forecheck from Dan Carcillo.

In essence, it was a complete performance from the Western Conference's No. 1 seed.

If Chicago continues to drive the pace of play the way they did in Game 1, it will be difficult to see Detroit lasting long in the series. Even if Howard maintains his performance, the Red Wings will need to generate more offense. While their chances were limited, Detroit managed to create open space. Unfortunately for them, they weren't able to do much with it. If that remains the case in subsequent games, the Red Wings will need to be more economic with their chances.

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